“Amon,” Zuri almost trilled as she burst into the room, bearing a large smile and an even larger hat. “I have a gift for you!”
So much had happened since the day Amon made his promise to help Zuri pay the Ruby Price and cross over into her homeland, Yanxia. Not one to back down on a true promise, he’d dedicated his share of time and effort to the project.
His companions still took odd jobs to cover the cost of living – very often this included running guard duty for the Lalafell merchant, who had become a repeat customer. Amon had quickly worked off his debt and earned the right to own the large crimson chocobo who had taken fancy with him, and now all profit they earned was split among their group.
He and Zuri often performed music in various locations when they stopped to rest, and any extra gil they earned was put towards saving for the trip. Finally, the day had come when the AuRa judged they had enough for passage.
…And… a little something extra.
“What sort of gift?” the Elezen asked, turning from his research to look at the girl.
“It’s a new hat!” Zuri exclaimed, holding it up for him to see.
Amon took one look at it, and his face paled. Though it was a very large and very fine hat, the kind that one saw worn by travelers from the East, there was nothing about it that provided any sort of… facial protection.
“That’s… very kind of you, but…”
“I know exactly what you’re going to say,” Zuri stopped him with a gentle look. “Before you refuse, will you hear me out?”
Zuri seemed content with his silence and pressed a finger to her lips, trying to decide how to approach what she already knew would be a debate. Not surprisingly, she began with a note of sympathy.
The Bard paused as sounds of unwillingness died on his lips. The girl rarely asked for anything, and was being surprisingly strong-willed about this. The least he could offer was some consideration for her words.
“I don’t fully know the reason why you choose to hide the way you do. I’ve… come to the conclusion that something awful must have happened to you for you to feel this way about yourself,” the girl fidgeted under his guarded watch, her hands tracing the rim of the hat. “I know that I’m asking a whole lot from you. But I have a reason.”
The Elezen remained silent. With that established, there was nothing left but for her to make a case that was stronger than his phobia.
“The people of my homeland also struggle with fear,” Zuri told him, her bright eyes reflecting with a strange keenness. “Those who come to our land from afar… wearing masks… wearing helmets… obscuring their faces… always sought to bring subjugation and pain. My people have strong hearts, but they, too, are working to recover from loss.”
Appealing to empathy he didn’t possess wouldn’t win her case. It wasn’t Zuri’s fault she took that route. She didn’t know how broken he really was.
“I understand,” Amon tried not to sound heartless. As much as he did care about her feelings, his care didn’t extend to the rest of her people. That wasn’t something he could be apologetic about, either. “By that token, my concerns are just as valid.”
“Of course they are. But you are the stronger spirit.”
His eyebrows lifted to that.
“You seek to remain faceless, do you not?” the girl pressed on. “Should you wear this hat, no one will think you the least bit odd. But should you, a foreigner, come into my land forcefully hiding your face, they will look upon you deeply with scrutiny and doubt. That defeats the purpose of what you try to do, does it not?”
“Zuri.” Amon’s breath caught in his throat and he almost laughed. “Where did you learn to weave logic that way?”
The AuRa brightened and smiled up at him. “Why, from you, of course.”
This time, he did laugh, pressing his palm against his forehead. “Aye. Of course. I’ve been a bad influence, it seems.”
“No,” Zuri came closer and took his arm gently. She still smiled up at him with all the trust and confidence of the innocent. “You’re never such a thing.”
Amon just sighed, looking away from her, feeling a twinge of what might have been shame. She mis-read the motion as submission.
“So, does that mean that you’ll do it?” the AuRa asked.
“I didn’t say that.”
She didn’t give in so easily. Instead, she played yet another card, “Amon… don’t you trust me?”
For a second time, his breath caught and he took a step away from her, crossing his arms. This… was a question he’d not considered before. One that he had to examine inside and out before answering.
It was so easy to lie to her and tell her what she wanted to hear. But some niggling little spot in the back of his mind rejected the notion, though he didn’t know why.
Instead, the Elezen just peered down at her in silence, studying all the strangeness in the features of her face. When he first met her, what seemed so long ago, he’d passed instant judgement and recoiled from her appearance. And yet, though she had every reason to reject him, she had not.
After a very long time, Amon spoke slowly, worried that his truth would wound her gentle spirit. “I don’t know.”
Zuri remained unruffled. To his surprise, she told him, “I knew you’d say that.”
“You hide a lot of things from me,” Zuri said frankly. “But you hide more things from other people. I’ve seen you. So that must mean you trust me just a little.”
The Elezen chuckled, a sound that came from deep in his throat. “Fair enough.”
“My people are peaceful. They mean no harm. It’s important for them to understand that you don’t mean them harm, either. How you present yourself is very important in communicating that,” the girl told him. “If you trust me, even a little, trust that I’d never ask you to do something that would hurt you.”
It was obvious that she recognized that sound – the telltale hum that meant Amon was thinking. He couldn’t believe he was being moved on this. But there it was. He was thinking.
“And look,” Zuri cheerfully lowered her head, her own matching straw hat dipping forward to cover most of her face. “If you suddenly feel the need to hide, all you have to do is this!”
“The hat… has a built in masking mechanism when tilted!“ The Elezen exclaimed in wonder. Why hadn’t he noticed it before?
“It does!” she laughed and held his hat out to him. “Please, Amon? Please come with me! I promise I’ll make everything be all right.”
His hand shook a little, even at the mere thought of what he was agreeing to. Still, Amon took the hat from her, breathing words of mustered courage, “I will try.”