Odd One Out

Previously: Azura's Sky

The last day before classes were to resume, Fairuz decided it was time for Step Seven. She'd been working on a surprise for Onmund over the past day and decided to bring it to his room...where she found him chatting with Brelyna.

She's back. Fairuz wasn't sure why she was surprised the Dark Elf had returned; classes started again tomorrow, after all. She maintained her composure, brightened her smile, and pretended she wasn't disappointed.

"Surprise!" she cheered. "I made you a little something," she said to Onmund, brandishing small a tray of delicacies. "As a thank-you for taking me around Winterhold over break."

"Oh, that was nothing," he casually shrugged, which irked her even more.

Brelyna was wide-eyed. "What are those?" she asked, snatching a sweet off the tray that wasn't intended for her. The Redguard girl remained committed, however, refusing to flinch or stop smiling.

"A taste of home," she told them. "Mounds of sugar, soaked overnight in rum, topped with fresh snowberries. We usually cover them in almond shavings, but I felt snowberries would give them that special touch of Skyrim."

Onmund appeared intrigued as he took one. It in his mouth and he along with it. "Mm...wow," he murmured.

Fairuz twitched. See, this is precisely the kind moment we should be sharing alone.

"I told her how you liked sweets," Brelyna chirped. She turned back to Fairuz. "I like the snowberries; the sour tempers the sweet."

Onmund playfully rolled his eyes. "Brelyna is a foodie."

Oh, you two are just full fun facts about each other, aren't you?

"Where'd you get the rum?" the Dunmeri girl asked.

"I brought it from home," Fairuz replied.

The Elf's eyes went wide again. "This is real Stros M'Kai rum?"

"Straight from my parents' distillery," Fairuz nodded.

"I was just telling Onmund about my adventures in Windhelm," Brelyna went on. "And he said you're planning a trip there in the spring. And I was like, oh my gods...we all have to go together! We can stay at Candlehearth Hall and drink Argonian wine."

That doesn't even sound good. "Yes," Fairuz tittered as her fa├žade began to lose steam. "We should totally do that." She set the tray down on his bed. "Eat as much as you want; just remember to put the tray back in the kitchen."

"Thanks, Fairuz," the Nord nodded. Annoyed that he didn't invite her to stay, she mustered her most dazzling smile before hastily exiting the room.

It's me, she scowled, trudging back to her dorm. I'm not pretty enough, I'm not skilled enough--

Maybe they're already screwing, she interrupted herself. The thought stopped her in her tracks just as she reached her room. They had time to get to know each other weeks before I got here. Maybe they're together, but they're keeping it secret because they want to appear serious or professional or whatever.

The thought of them already being a couple (or even simply lovers) was disappointing enough, but the idea that they might be keeping it to themselves stung even more.

Do they laugh at me? Fairuz asked herself, horrified. Do they make jokes about?

Panic turned to nausea, dizzying, devastating nausea that made the world spin.

It's fine, she tried to calm herself. It's fine if he doesn't like me; he's not obligated to. He's been polite and courteous, even if it's just to my face.

My face. Fairuz walked over to her mirror and sulked at her reflection. She looked just like her sisters, who were often praised, and yet something about her was just off and always had been.

***

With her self-esteem in the toilet, Fairuz did what she always did to her make herself feel a little better: take a hot bath.

Back home in Stros M'Kai, her family's estate was built on a hot spring. The pull of a single lever filled the big wooden tubs with steamy water. It was considered a such great privilege to be able to take hot baths multiple times a day with so little effort.

It was the same at Winterhold, except instead of a hot spring, the mages simply used magic. There was a general changing room for people to strip down and store their belongs, after which a person could choose a vacant chamber to bathe.

I love the immersive feeling of swimming and bathing in Skyrim.

Like, this is such a mood.

The giant tub was stone, built into the floor. Hot water automatically filled as the bather approached, and the candles surrounding the tub automatically lit. Some esoteric, swee-smelling fragrance bloomed at the center of the room and slowly filled the air. As the warm water covered her naked form, Fairuz had to admit, it was even more luxurious than bathing at home.

It was also usually a lot more calming, but today she just felt numb. What was she doing here? Sure she was a mage, capable of performing magic and learning spells. But was that what she really wanted or did she just need an escape from her life in Hammerfell?

I'm tired of the fucking robes. It was a random thought, but an honest one; she'd brought other clothes with the expectation of wearing them to parties or on nights out at a tavern. Except once she arrived, everyone else only wore robes, didn't host parties, and didn't go to the tavern.

Even so, the rule of the College was that students had to appropriately dress for lessons. She could technically wear whatever she want on her personal time.

When she dried off and returned to her room, she changed into an Imperial-style dress. It felt cozy and looked pretty, flattering her small frame. Fairuz smiled, feeling a little happier and wishing she'd changed out of her robes sooner. But then...she realized she had nowhere to go and nothing to do in pretty dress.

She sat on her bed, feeling lost and disappointed all over again.


No, seriously...what in Aetherius am I even doing here?
Her stomach began to grumble, so she rose and went to the kitchen to forage for a snack. She was growing tired of the food at the College; everything was so simple and healthy. Even the pies were light on butter and sugar. She settled on an apple and was headed back to her room when she ran in to Brelyna, who was already back to studying.

The Dark Elf was taken aback by the sight of her.

"What in Oblivion are you wearing?" Brelyna exclaimed.

"A dress I bought in Solitude," Fairuz replied in a leaden voice, not bothering to don her fake smile. She was tired of smiling, of making her voice sound higher and cheerier than normal. "I got tired of the robes."

"I get tired too sometimes," the Elf admitted. She shrugged. "It's pretty. You headed somewhere?"

"The Arcanaeum," Fairuz sighed defeated. "Classes resume tomorrow. Might as well get back into the whole studying thing."

She went back to her room to retrieve the matching hood that went with the dress, and tried not to think of how pathetic her life was that she was all dressed up just to go to a library.

And if that didn't sting enough, she happened to run into Onmund on the way back to her room. Her heartbeat skipped, wondering if maybe, just maybe if he saw her in regular clothing, he might see her differently, feel something differently from before.

Instead, he looked up and down once, before noncommittally stated, "Nice. Got tired of the robes, huh?"

"I did," she replied flatly, continuing on to her room. Why do I even bother?

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