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Shatter, Heart

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He was sneaking through bushes when they found him, dragged him out, and forced him into uncomfortable handcuffs.

“Are you spying?” the one with braided hair falling down his back demanded. “Are you here to kill?”

“I'm just hungry,” Gippal admitted, and felt stupid when a piece of bread was pushed in front of him – but not too stupid to reject the offering.

He was halfway through eating it when the other one, the one with silver hair, asked, “Do you know who we are?”

“'Course,” Gippal said. “You're a summoner.”

“This is my pilgrimage,” the man agreed, “and we could use your Al-Bhed potions.”

They were heading through Luca when Gippal decided to stay; not forever, but to see what would happen next. This strange duo he found himself joining were somehow compelling. He should hate them, both, but he couldn't seem to muster the emotion.

He was so caught up in his own thoughts that he missed the monster that dive-bombed him, and he threw his hands up over his face just as the embers leftover from the Fire spell rained down on him.

“I thought you would be gone,” Baralai said, but he held a hand out in aid anyway.

“So did I,” Gippal replied.

At the end of the Highroad, he still didn't know quite what he was doing.

They were traveling through Mushroom Rock Road when they met the other pilgrimage party – a woman and her many companions, more rag-tag than their own group. She offered to patch up their wounds with her spells, and they traded a few spoils from hunting.

Later, Gippal said, “I'm surprised, is all. She seemed so frail. I didn't expect that someone as frail as her could become a summoner.”

“It's not about the strength you are thinking,” Nooj said, “but inner strength.”

Still, even Baralai sometimes looked like a strong wind would knock him over – maybe the summoner lifestyle came as a package deal with the dark eye circles and weary sighs.

“Maybe,” was all Gippal allowed himself to say.

“People are stronger than machines, you know,” Nooj told him. But Baralai was staring out at the darkness beyond their fire, lost in thought, and Gippal couldn't totally agree.

They were approaching Guadosalam when Baralai voiced his doubts, away from Nooj, his stalwart guardian of strength.

“She'll make it, I think,” the other man confessed in hushed whispers. “She was full of so much good.”

“Bullshit,” Gippal replied. “So are you.”

“Says the man who wants to kidnap me,” Baralai said, one eyebrow rising.

Gippal's face flushed, and he hoped it wasn't noticeable in the shadows. “You can't prove that. I could have been sneaking around to do anything – steal, or break something.”

“Were you?” Baralai asked.

Gippal said nothing.

After awhile, Baralai asked: “Are you still planning to?”

“Maybe,” Gippal said, and kicked dirt to put the fire out.

They were passing through Bevelle when Gippal returned the favor.

“This place gives me the creeps,” he said. “All this Yevon stuff.”

“What do you believe in?” Baralai asked – curious, not judgmental.

Gippal didn't have an answer for that. He had used to believe in machina, in his own strength, in the Al-Bhed self-reliance. He didn't know any more.

“Come,” Nooj instructed. “We are to receive a blessing before the temple.”

They started moving again before Gippal could find a good answer.

They were walking through Macalania Forest when Baralai forced them to stop, shivering and shaking in the night air.

“I'm sorry,” he said, when the fire was built. “I should be stronger than this. I can freeze monsters to nothing but crystal, so why am I so weak to the cold?”

“You don't have to be anything,” Gippal told him. “You're already enough.”

The look Baralai leveled him with was infuriatingly unreadable. “Am I?”

“It's still a long journey,” Nooj said, and Gippal made himself useful recounting his Al-Bhed potions so he wouldn't have an excuse to look across the flames again.

They were resting in the Calm Lands when they met another summoner, returning home after giving up his pilgrimage.

“Will that be my future?” Baralai asked, sadly watching them trudge back into the woods.

“No,” Gippal said. “The aeons have chosen you. You'll make it to the end.”

“Why are you still here?” Baralai asked. “I never made you an official guardian.”

The sun was bright and warm, deceptively comfortable. “I guess you didn't.”

There was a long period of silence. Gippal turned his head and asked, “Should I go?”

“Don't be stupid,” Baralai laughed. “I was only kidding.”

They were hiking the narrow, freezing switchbacks of Mt. Gagazet when they ran out of Al-Bhed potions – Gippal cursed himself for allowing the stock to get so low.

“Don't,” Baralai said, face lined and weary. “It's not your fault. The white mages fare much better – I should have known we would struggle by the end.”

They hoped that nothing would attack them as they slept, bodies craving the rest.

“You asked me, a long time ago, what I believe in,” Gippal whispered. “I think I believe in you.”

Baralai didn't answer, but he did reach over to grab Gippal's hand; his fingers felt like priceless crystals, delicate and terrifying brittle.

They were standing in Zanarkand when Gippal knew, deep down in his chest, what he had to do.

“No,” Baralai was crying. The tears on his cheeks were reflecting the light. “You can't.”

“Someone has to,” Gippal replied, emotion choking him. “That's the rule, isn't it?”

“Please,” Baralai pleaded. “Not you.”

But it had to be, and they both knew it, and it cut like a knife.

“Please,” Baralai tried again.

“You should know,” Gippal started.

“Don't,” Baralai gasped. “Don't you dare.”

Would he become a machine, when he was Sin? Gippal wasn't sure.

“The reason I stayed, you know,” Gippal said.

“I know,” Baralai whispered. “I know. Me too.”

A sob, caught in his throat. The irony.

“I'm ready,” Gippal choked out. “Do it.”