Fandom: FF X-2
Rating: PG, just because
Set: Pre-game, during Crimson Squad training
Spoilers: Minor, for the Crimson Spheres
Pairings: Paine/Nooj, implied Gippalai
Notes: This ficlet has been sitting around, locked away, in my defunct writing journal for ages -- I wrote it up back when I was working on Chapter Sixteen. I don't remember exactly why; maybe I wanted to get something straight for myself, or maybe I was just craving some dialogue. Anyway, I've been meaning to clean it up, and doing so seemed the perfect project to get my head back into the right space for my next project, which presented itself quite forcefully today. (Not ready to share details yet. I will, once things are more settled. For now, let's just say I'm really, really excited about this.)
Paine stood at the rail of the boat, watching the sun drift down toward the horizon as the wind whipped through her hair. Normally, she spiked it up and out of her face using a stiff gel she'd discovered via Berrik, who needed strong stuff that would last in the blitz sphere, but she'd intentionally left it softer than usual for the voyage so that she could feel it lift and blow in the sea breeze. Nooj seemed to like her hair this way; he'd been stroking it constantly during these two days on the boat. Although he'd also been more overtly affectionate in general. Whatever the reason, Paine was not inclined to complain.
Tomorrow the boat would arrive at its destination, wherever that was. The Crimson Squad training would conclude, and her team, Squadron Five, would likely be scattered to the four winds. Paine had spent the last hour here staring into the waves, contemplating that possibility and trying to figure out some way to stop it.
She turned around and smiled at her approaching teammate. "Baralai," she responded. "Do you guys have a minute?"
"Of course." He waved over to Gippal, who was leaning against the stairway railing and typing away on his machina diary. Gippal put away the device and loped over to them, then dropped gracefully to the deck, kicking out his feet and leaning back on his hands. For a man desert-born and bred, he had a surprisingly easy time compensating for the pitching of the boat as he moved across it. Baralai sat next to him, more cautiously, and Paine slid down the railing to take a seat as well, drawing up her knees and resting her elbows on them.
"Hey, Dr. P," Gippal said. "I was just thinking about coming to talk with you."
"Good," said Paine, "because I have something to discuss with you, too. I've been wondering what will happen after the training is finished, and whether there's some way to keep our team together."
Gippal sat up straight. "You're kidding. That's exactly what I was going to ask you about."
Paine smiled slightly. "I guess we're on the same page, then. You know, this is exactly why I don't want to see them split us up. Our rapport, the way the four of us work together -- it's incredible."
"Yes," Baralai agreed. "Besides..." He looked down at the deck, then back up at Paine, shyly. "You've all become so important to me, even though I've only known you a few weeks. Already I can't imagine my life without you. Any of you."
"Me too," Paine said softly.
"Same here," said Gippal. A swift glance passed between the guys, and Paine suppressed another smile. So Baralai had told Gippal how he was feeling. Good; he'd really needed to get that out in the open.
"So we're agreed?" Gippal looked at Paine, and she nodded. "Okay, here's what we do. Whenever they start passing out assignments, as soon as one of us is called in we all go together. And we tell them, straight out, that we aren't serving under anyone other than Nooj."
Paine raised an eyebrow. "That's a bold plan. Do you really think it'll work?"
Gippal shrugged. "We're the best they've got, especially together. They'd be idiots to turn us down. Of course, these are the Maesters of Yevon we're talking about." Belatedly, he remembered whom he was sitting next to and shot him an apologetic look. "Sorry, Lai."
Baralai waved off the apology. "It's all right. I must say that their logic has escaped me as well, of late. And I do agree with Gippal: we should at least try."
Paine leaned forward, hugging her legs with her arms. "I don't know. You guys may have some pull, but for myself I have doubts. You remember how they completely dismissed me when they questioned us about the duel. They don't seem to have much respect for recorders."
"They'll respect you," Baralai said, his tone confident. "Especially if Nooj speaks for you. The Maesters are utterly in awe of him. If he asks for you, they won't dare refuse."
"Definitely. He's the only one here with any clue what he's doing, and they know it." Gippal turned to her, questioning. "He will ask for you, won't he?"
With a deep breath, Paine raised her eyes to the reddening sky. She'd hoped this wouldn't come up, but that was a foolish wish; of course they had to ask. She would have, in their place. Letting out the air with a slight sigh, she looked back to her friends. "We haven't discussed it."
"Oh." The guys exchanged near-identical looks of surprise, tinged with something that might have been pity.
"Well, he is a military man," Paine said defensively. "He's trained to follow whatever orders his superiors give him, regardless of what his personal feelings might be. The idea of challenging their decisions might never even occur to him." But even as she spoke, she wondered. Nooj's thoughts were an open book to her in some respects, but his feelings for her largely remained a mystery. Maybe he'd be content to let her go when the training ended. After all, he planned to desert her arms for the permanent embrace of death at the next opportunity. Would a few more days or weeks together really matter to him that much?
Gippal's next words interrupted Paine's musings. "What if we asked him? Do you think he'd go along with it?"
"Hm." She considered the question. Nooj hadn't said anything to her directly, of course; he so rarely did. But he had clearly enjoyed the team's camaraderie over the last few days -- taking the beach together, splashing in the surf, last night's conversation. He didn't seem particularly eager to part from them. She suspected that, on some level, he had already accepted the dissolution of Squadron Five as a foregone conclusion. But how would he feel if presented with an alternative?
"Maybe," she said, finally. She looked into the hopeful faces of Gippal and Baralai. "Maybe."
"All right!" Gippal straightened again. "So that's the plan. All three of us will stand together and demand assignment to Nooj's command. Deal?"
"Deal," Paine said as Baralai nodded enthusiastically.
"Let's seal it, then." Gippal held his palms before his mouth and spat into them, then held a hand out to each of his teammates. "By the water of my life, I swear this to you: we will stand together." Paine repeated the gesture and the words, as did Baralai, and then Gippal said them again in Al Bhed. And then the three of them spent a long moment sitting in silence, forming a triangle with their hands and bodies, looking at each other.
The squawk of a seagull flying overhead broke the mood; Paine dropped their hands and leaned back on her elbows, looking at the sky and the faint stars just beginning to appear, giving the others a moment of privacy. Then she sat up. They weren't touching, but they were sitting closer together than before. "So have you heard the rumors about this joint Crusader-Al Bhed operation?"
"Sure have!" said Gippal enthusiastically.
"Um." Baralai sent the other a look. "Perhaps we are not on the same page regarding every topic..."
Paine laughed. "Should I be sorry I asked?"
"Paine!" Nooj's voice floated over the deck from across the boat. She looked up to see him making his way toward the group as the sun finally disappeared into the sea, one hand on his cane, the other resting on the rail. Their eyes met, and they smiled at one another. When he reached the near railing, she stood and joined him there, and as the four settled in for another night of conversation and companionship, Paine felt a surge of hope that it might not be one of the last.