From the first time he'd used the word 'party,' she'd suspected that hadn't been what he'd meant at all, and her suspicions had been confirmed when he'd gently suggested she wear the dress he'd bought her when they first got to Bevelle, the one that seemed almost Al Bhed in its desire not to show any skin whatsoever – except that when the Al Bhed got it in their heads to do that, their outfits always came equipped with their own air conditioning units, something she could hardly imagine finding inside a Yevonite garment. But she put it on, and had to admit that he was right when he said she looked lovely in it; it stretched and accentuated her seven-months belly quite nicely. She thought that, at least, would give her something that the Yevonite women could find in common with her, might even praise her for.
Few of them made it that far down her body, however. Most of the people she'd met at the party, men and women alike, had been politely cold to her, gazing at her spiralled eyes with thinly veiled hostility. They all spoke too fast for her to understand, and didn't seem to care for her few carefully practiced phrases of proper Yevonite greetings. The few that bothered to openly notice the evidence of her pregnancy did not congratulate her for her upcoming birth, but looked appalled, as though allowing her body to testify to the fact that she and her husband had sex was unforgivably gauche. She wondered if Yevonite women just holed themselves away for their nine months, then thought about the number of pregnant women she'd seen in the year she'd been in Bevelle (none) and figured her estimation wasn't far off.
She'd known it was going to be like this coming in, and she'd sworn she'd be prepared so it wouldn't get to her. And it hadn't, for a while, and being the center of negative attention in the room had almost been fun. But after two hours, it was really starting to wear her out. She'd almost been grateful when someone Very Important (she could tell, because his hat was ridiculous) had grabbed Braska away for private conversation, and she'd been allowed to melt into the wallpaper, praying herself invisible.
So when the young-looking man turned away from the table of tiny, tasteless foods and sidled up to her, she felt herself tense up. She tried to look away, to look engaged, to look like she was doing anything so he wouldn't feel the need to harass her, particularly now that she was defenseless without her interpreter-husband. Or perhaps she would just pretend not to speak Yevonite – it wasn't far from the truth, after all. And if she had to make a hasty exit, she could blame it on the baby inside of her, and not bring any undue harm to the reputation Braska had worked so hard to establish.
"…loud parties. Too many people."
Her brain had only really started understanding him in the middle of the sentence, and she frowned at him a little, an expression which she realised only too late invited him to continue speaking.
"The party. Tonight. It's very loud." He spoke in short, easy sentences, and fairly slowly, unlike the rest of the Yevonites, whose single goal in life seemed to be a competition to see who could say the most in the shortest span of time. "I don't like loud parties. I like quiet better."
"I like…" She fumbled with her sleeve a little. She wasn't entirely sure about her capacity to hold a conversation in Yevonite, even after living among native speakers for nearly a year; she had none of her husband's skills with languages. But then again, his immersion experience had been different – he had been surrounded by people actually interested in speaking with him. Taking a deep breath, she tried again: "I like music."
The corner of his mouth turned slightly, and she suspected she had said the right thing. "The music in the temples?"
"No," she said, then realised it might be a terrible insult to him to imply that the temple music was bad, and corrected herself with, "Yes." But that wasn't entirely truthful either, and certainly hadn't been what she'd meant. "I like drums." Was that the Yevonite word? She hoped so. "Drums and vmida."
"Vmida?" Now it was his turn to frown in incomprehension, and she raised her fingers to her mouth in a long line and wiggled them a little. "Oh, player pipes. Yes, I like those also. I wish they'd play music at these parties." His fingers wound around the rim of the glass he held, an unconscious gesture, but one that made her notice what lovely hands he had. "Then I would not have to talk to pyhurk maesters."
Now that was a Yevonite word she was fairly certain she'd never heard before, but she didn't want to expose how terrible her accent was by trying to repeat it in a request for clarification, so she let it go. "I am Riksa," she offered, because it seemed the right thing to do, and the followed with her excruciatingly careful recitation of, "I am very pleased to make your acquaintance."
"I'm called Auron," said the young man, who very pointedly did not make the prayer gesture that everyone else used practically as punctuation. "And I am very pleased to make your acquaintance." When he said it, it sounded rather sincere.
She looked around for her husband, but saw no trace of him. "I am Braska's wife." That last word had been easy for her to learn – there was no Al Bhed equivalent.
"Yes," he nodded. "I know." Auron scanned across the room with sad eyes, then turned his gaze back to her. "Do you like living in Bevelle?"
It took her a moment to process his statement, and when she finally understood, she it took her yet another moment to figure out how to answer. There were so many things she could say – the polite answer, the kind answer, the deferential answer, the answer that would let her continue to pass as 'one of them.' But she looked at his face as he waited quietly for her to speak, never once indicating that she was trying his patience, and realised that she had finally met, in all of Bevelle, a man who deserved the honest answer. "No." She lowered her head a little, trying to cover her face with her hair until she remembered that the terrible humidity in Bevelle had compelled her to chop it off above her shoulders. "It is rain. And cold. And Yevonites do not like me."
Her confession did not seem to offend him; rather, it softened the harsh lines around his eyes until she could see that he did not actually mean to look angry all the time, but that his face had simply worn that way until he had no choice, and she felt sorry for him, that someone so young (he had to be twenty years younger than she, at least; in another lifetime she could have been his mother) had lived a life that had left such a mark. "I feel the same way," he admitted.
They stood there for a minute together, silent outcasts holding up a wall.
The moment was broken as woman – a girl, really, even younger than Auron was – with thick, curly brown hair down to her back waved in Auron's direction from across the room and motioned him over. He gave her a 'just a minute' gesture and a smile that Riksa could see did not reach quite high enough. "That woman will one day be my wife," Auron told her. "She's Maester Mika's daughter." He did not further identify her mother (a Yevonite habit that continually confused her), but she understood enough of temple politics to see what a fortuitous move it would be to marry an important man's daughter.
"She is very..." She didn't know the word, and tried to work around it as best she could. "Her face is nice."
Auron chuckled at her choice of words, but the laughter was not cruel, and she found herself wearing a smile to match his. "Yes, I suppose it is." He sighs, staring off in the distance at the woman, who had stopped paying attention to him and started laughing at what some unidentified person had said. "And she is charming and graceful and a very appropriate wife for someone who is being groomed to take her father's place."
Now that was an odd word, one she had only heard used with regards to cleaning and fussing with chocobos, but she got the impression from the expression on his face that she might not be too far off in this estimation. "Oh," she said, and that was as much of a response as she could conjure with her culturally-limited coping skills. Besides, she didn't know if the phrase if you don't want to marry her– and you obviously don't – then don't marry her, you nitwit! translated into Yevonite as anything but a terrible insult. Maybe if she left off the 'you nitwit' part at the end, or kept that in Al Bhed. No, he'd probably still suspect the insult there. Oh, did she ever hate being in a culture where you had to watch everything you did, everything you said, everything you wore lest someone disapprove and shatter your entire place in the social order on a whim. Those days when she might have berated a young man for being uptight and crawled into his bed unbidden just to spite his propriety suddenly seemed as though they had belonged in another lifetime, with another person, and not to her at all.
After a long moment, he let out an audible sigh. "I should go. They're still waiting."
"Do you love her?"
He turned his head sharply in her direction, almost unbelieving that she had said such a thing; she herself was trying to figure out how she had passed the gap between formulating such a question in her head and deciding it was a good idea to speak it aloud without her conscious mind ever noticing. "I…" His brow furrowed, and he looked off into the distance again to the girl, who was laughing again, and even from the other side of the room Riksa could tell the laughter was not kind. "…What does that have to do with anything?"
She flushed, holding her hands protectively over her stomach, wanting very much to sink into the wall, into the floor, through the earth and all the way back to Home. "I am sorry."
"Don't be." Auron took a step away from the wall, and turned to face her. "You're honest. I wish I could be." His face wore an expression of terrible sadness concealed by stalwart resolve, and she wondered if she was the only person in the room who could see how unhappy he was, how very young and very terrified that the path of his life had been set for him seemingly without his consent. Yevonites, she swore to herself internally; their primary skill seemed to be ignoring the pain they caused those around them.
He nodded to her, a gesture of departing, and reached out his hand almost automatically as though to touch her stomach – then stopped himself, realising that the gesture must seem both presumptuous and inappropriate, neither of which a young monk wishes to seem at a social gathering. "You can touch," she assured him, reaching out to take his hand and placing it against her belly, letting him feel where he skin had been stretched out to accommodate the new life inside of her. "She is very quiet. I think asleep now."
"Does your baby have a name?" Auron's voice was a little hushed. His fingers splayed wide, rustling the deep blue fabric of her dress, and she thought again of how beautiful his hands were, how strong and gentle.
"Yuna," answered Riksa.
"Yuna," Auron murmured in reply. "A strong name." Without further comment, he turned and walked into the crowd, his dark hair and pale green robes disappearing into the crowd.
She followed him with her eyes for a moment until a hand came to rest upon her shoulder, and she looked over to see the face of her husband. "Let's get out of here," Riksa sighed at him, slipping into Al Bhed.
"Had enough of Yevonite hospitality?" Braska smiled, kissing her cheek – she thought she heard at least three women faint at the spectacle – and guiding her gently toward the exit. "Who was the man you were talking to?"
Riksa took a long, deep breath as she stepped into the night air; she felt like running, but she was fairly certain that the baby inside of her was asleep, and all tiny things need their rest. "A monk who said his name was Auron." She wasn't certain she'd pronounced it incorrectly, but it was close enough. "He's in over his head here. Nearly as out-of-place as I am, and that's saying a lot."
"I think I've met him." Braska's grip on her arm was gently supportive, and though she was taller than he, he still managed to keep both her and the baby on board on track. "I think he's the one they say is going to make maester someday."
"He doesn't want to be one."
"Well," Braska sighed, with that tone of voice that she knew meant he was about to say something derrogatory about his own culture, "it's not always about what you want."
That was a sad way to look at things, she thought, and it seemed to be so pervasive among Yevonites. Always what they felt was necessary, never what they wanted to do. Even, after all was said and done, her own husband. "I'd like to meet him again sometime."
"Of course," Braska nodded, as they turned the corner down the street toward home.
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