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All Work and No Play Makes Life a Beach

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"So, you're telling me there is no machina development facility here." Baralai planted his hands on his hips and furrowed his brow.

"Nope." Gippal leaned against the dock as he watched the S.S. Liki ease away en route to Kilika Island.

"No weapon samples to inspect."

"Nuh-uh."

Baralai's voice grew quiet. "No sub-contractors to interview."

"You got it, Praetor!" Gippal gave Baralai a congratulatory clap on the back, and in that moment, Baralai grabbed his arm and wrenched him forward, against his body, their faces mere inches from each other.

"Then what the hell is on this island?" Baralai snarled.

Gippal used his other hand to slowly pry Baralai's fingers off his wrist. "That's going to leave a bruise," he mock-pouted. "I'm a delicate man."

"I'm going to stop being delicate with you in one minute unless you tell me why you lied to me to get me all the way down here only to waste my time!" Baralai seethed, heat virtually shimmering off of him in waves, not unlike the sand in the hot sun.

"This is exactly why, B," Gippal drawled, giving Baralai's shoulders a squeeze. "All work and no play makes Praetor a downright bitch to deal with. What's on this island? You. Me. The beach."

Baralai pulled away from Gippal's grip. "This is hardly the time for a forced vacation," he said.

"The fact that I have to force you says there's never a time," Gippal replied, stepping out of the shade near the dock and onto the hot sand. He beckoned to Baralai. "A shoopuf couldn't drag you out of Bevelle any more, the way you work yourself. You're cracking, man, and that's not good for any of us. Me, you, Nooj. We agreed after the whole Shuyin thing that we weren't going to let ourselves get weak enough for something like that to happen again. You're not holding up your end of the bargain."

"I said I'm fine," Baralai huffed, refusing to budge from the shade, as though doing so would compromise his principles. "And giving in to your little machinations would imply that I agree with you. And I don't."

"I'm out here in the sun!" Gippal yelled, now several yards away from him, in the middle of the beach. "If I stay out here too long, I'll get sunburned!"

"You grew up in the desert!" Baralai retorted. "You're not going to get sunburned!"

"I will if I take my shirt off," Gippal said. He unsnapped the buckles that anchored his shoulder armor to his pants and threw them over his shoulders, allowing the bulky plates to hit the sand. He then tugged the long-sleeved purple shirt over his head. His pale torso was littered with several scars, including a jagged circular one toward the center that marked the exit wound of Nooj's traitorous shot. His skin was sprinkled with freckles, concentrated on his shoulders, as though they'd been dumped on him from above and a few had trickled downward. One small trail disappeared into the waistband of Gippal's pants, and that was the one that held Baralai's attention for just a moment too long. "I'm roasting as we speak," he wheedled. "Spare me, B!"

Baralai still didn't move, but even the shadows couldn't conceal the smile he struggled to suppress. He simply shook his head and crossed his arms.

"Come on, what else are you going to do? That was the last ferry of the night. You're here, whether you want to be or not." Gippal trudged back up the beach to Baralai, face and torso glistening with sweat. It was mercilessly hot on Besaid Island, and Baralai's layered Yevonite robes didn't help. Gippal traced a finger up the edge of Baralai's outer robe, up to where it fastened at his throat. "Besides," he murmured, reaching well-practiced fingers up to release the clasp, "I miss you."

"Gippal," Baralai sighed, exasperated. He pulled back as Gippal's fingertips brushed against his throat. "This isn't the place."

"Yes, it is. This is the place. Look out there. The only people on that entire beach are two kids and their dog. Nobody's going to see you. And who cares if they did? You're not Maester. You're not Yevon. You've got to live, B. You've got to be human. It's the only way you're going to be able to do this." He gripped Baralai's over-robe in both hands, and with a swift shove, pushed it off of his shoulders. Baralai sighed with relief despite himself at the loss of the stifling weight.

Gippal's restless hands continued to the tie of Baralai's sash, nimbly working it open and letting it fall as well, while Baralai mutely watched. He pushed the pale green robe open, revealing Baralai's deceptively whip-thin torso, the chest heaving. When Gippal moved to touch the smooth, brown skin, Baralai gripped his wrist once more. "This isn't the place for this kind of thing," he warned. His voice shook with strain, and he closed his eyes. "Please, Gippal."

"Fine," Gippal said, immediately pulling back, which drew a quiet groan from Baralai. "I know just the place."

Before Baralai could protest, Gippal had secured his own grip on Baralai's wrist and sprinted toward the beach. Baralai's reflexes were fast enough to keep him from falling face-first in the sand and being drug along like a kite on a still day, although not quite fast enough to miss tripping over Gippal's discarded armor. He regained his footing in time to see their destination. "I can't get wet!" he yelled as Gippal pulled him into the water lapping onto the beach.

"Why not? You're not a cat!" Gippal yelled. He threw himself backward into the water, and he brought Baralai with him. The two fell together, Baralai virtually on top of Gippal, into the warm ocean.

Baralai immediately struggled to his feet, soaked through, while Gippal bobbed leisurely onto his back. After a moment he sat up, as though noticing Baralai for the first time. "Oh, look at you! A wet Praetor, and the world hasn't ended!" Gippal then stood, reaching under to tug off his boots and throw them one by one onto the shore, then his socks. He moved further out into the water, waist deep, then chest. "You know, B, you get this far out here, and nobody up there will be able to tell you from an Auroch," he said, raising his eyebrow.

It took only a moment for Baralai to realize what Gippal meant, and his inner robe, boots and socks joined Gippal's with a reckless splat before he dove under the water. He bobbed up next to Gippal, who immediately wrapped his arms around Baralai's neck. "Oh, so now you--" Gippal was cut off mid-snide remark by Baralai's kiss. The men's sighs mingled with the tinkling applause of the waves, and Gippal's hands disappeared beneath the water as Baralai's tangled through his mop of blond hair.

They eventually drew back, although Baralai's teeth brought along Gippal's lower lip as a prize, until Gippal spoke. His taunting jabs were replaced by a quiet intensity. "I had to get you alone somehow, and since asking nice doesn't work and your secretary seems to keep forgetting to put me on your calendar, I got creative."

"She what?" Baralai frowned, and Gippal immediately splashed him.

"No. No personnel decisions here. Forget I said that!" he quickly said. "You're not there right now. The place will run without you, even for one night." Gippal leaned in and pressed his forehead to Baralai's, and they kissed once more, a series of small, light, nuzzling kisses that drew a long sigh from Baralai.

"What about a whole weekend?" he asked, pecking a kiss against Gippal's sunburned nose.

Gippal grinned broadly and pulled Baralai's body flush to his. "I have the utmost faith in your people."

Baralai replied with another kiss, and Gippal floated them even further out into the ocean, until they sank under the surface, still locked together, and all that was visible was Baralai's blue headband as it was carried away out to sea by the tide.