Characters: Gippal, Baralai, Paine
Notes: This story had two long-ago inspirations: the "give five tidbits from a character's backstory" meme that went around awhile back, and lucil_luzzu request from over a year ago, omg for "Baralai and Gippal, with a theme of Brothers". Set during the time of the Crimson Squad, after the events of Crimson Sphere 2.
When they pulled into camp at sunset, Nooj disappeared behind the dunes, his face carefully blank, not speaking a word to anyone. His teammates made a point of not watching him go; instead, they threw themselves into the work of setting up camp before the light failed. Thanks to the day's misadventure, theirs had been the last group to arrive, so dinner was already starting by the time they had finished pitching their tent. They found a patch of sand near the campfire but some distance from the other teams, then sat and ate in awkward silence, none of them willing to bring up the incident, no one able to think about anything else.
It was Baralai who finally broke the barrier. "Well," he said, setting his bowl into the sand and looking from Gippal to Paine and back, "this is certainly not what I expected."
Paine swallowed her last bite of stew and wiped her mouth. "What's not?" she asked.
Baralai spread his hands. "Any of it. Machina weapons, long days in the desert with no particular mission or objective, an Al Bhed teammate-- not that it bothers me," he hastened to add, glancing sideways at Gippal. "Not at all. But you must realize it had to be something of a surprise. I know you said you tried to join the Crusaders and were sent to this group instead, but you still haven't told us why you wanted to enlist in the first place."
Gippal glanced over his shoulder in the direction they had last seen Nooj walking. "Trading one awkward subject for another?" Baralai ducked his head and started to blush, but Gippal waved him off with a chuckle. "Nah, it's okay. I'll tell you, if I can get your stories too, sometime." Baralai nodded; Paine shrugged her assent. "Okay. It's pretty simple, really. Dunno if you've ever heard this, but some of the Crusaders have been experimenting with machina weapons for awhile now."
"Yeah." Paine shifted her seating position and crossed her legs. "That was already going on when I joined up last year."
"I had no idea," Baralai muttered with a shake of his head.
"It's true." Gippal looked from Paine to Baralai and back. "They approached us through the Al Bhed blitz team. I got involved with the group that was working with them, and the more I talked to them, the more I got to thinking. The Crusaders are part of Yevon, sure, but what they really care about is stopping Sin. And the Al Bhed aren't any different. So why shouldn't we work together? Why just send weapons? Why not send people, too?" He sat up straighter now, his passion for the subject evident. "All these stupid barriers between people. What's the point? Sin kills us all, just the same!"
Baralai sighed. "It is unfortunate, but people will keep allowing old hurts and prejudices to get in the way of common sense.."
Gippal slumped back into his usual slouch. "Don't I know it," he muttered. "Not just in Yevon, either. You've got no idea how many people tried to talk me out of going, from my friends all the way to the top. 'They'll never accept you, you'll just be a heathen to them.' Just made me more determined to prove them all wrong. So I went to the recruiters in Luca. And they told me exactly what everyone said they would." He shook his head. "But I'd made too big a deal out of it; I couldn't just run back home with nothing to show for my big talk. So here I am."
"And we're glad you are." Baralai lowered his eyes to the fire. "Maybe this is the first step in uniting all Spira's people."
Paine raised an eyebrow. "Well there's a pipe dream."
"Perhaps; does that make it any less worthy?" Baralai swiveled in his seat and looked straight at Gippal, expression suddenly determined. "Someday, the Al Bhed and the followers of Yevon will stand together like brothers, working together and fighting together. Just as I have with you. It might take another thousand years, but it will happen. This I believe."
Gippal looked back at him, eyebrow up and leaning slightly forward. "And I thought I was a big talker." The two men stared at one another, not moving until Paine broke the silence by clearing her throat.
As they turned their heads toward her, she stood up and indicated the sky with her chin. "Getting dark fast."
The trio looked to their tent; the flap was half-open, which suggested that Nooj had slipped past them and gone inside. Baralai cast an uneasy glance at Paine, whose shoulders rose and fell with a deep breath as she let her arms fall to her sides.
Gippal shrugged, then jumped to his feet. "Can't avoid him forever. C'mon, let's get this over with."
He held a hand out to Baralai, then pulled him to his feet. Baralai arranged his robes as Gippal slapped him on the back; they exchanged a nod, then made their way across the campsite, following Paine into the tent.