A/N: The Chronicles of Chrestomanci and all characters and settings appearing in this fic are the property of Diana Wynne Jones's estate. This references my other Chrestomanci stories, but can be read alone. Part of me would like to continue it or write a sequel, but I don't know for sure if I will. I am an unabashed fan of Mordecai/Rosalie and the friendship of Mordecai&Rosalie&Flavian, but I also firmly believe things take time considering what they all went through leading up to and over the course of The Lives of Christopher Chant.
Eyes I Dare Not Meet in Dream
He'd expected to spend at very least the first night in custody and probably more. Gabriel had promised to do his best, and Gabriel's best, Mordecai knew, was no small amount. That didn't change the fact that Mordecai was facing a lengthy list of charges, even longer than it had been two days ago (by the addition of espionage, perjury, and child-endangerment to smuggling, graft, and conspiracy, albeit with 'under duress' tacked on to the end of each entry). The 'accessory' list was even longer, and Mordecai had been informed that 'treason' was still under debate. It was a weighty list, heavier still, Mordecai felt, since he'd returned from Eleven.
Maybe it wasn't that - wasn't that every regret had been sharper, every joy more rich, every hope and fear more exquisite, since Christopher had placed Mordecai's soul in his hands. Maybe it was simply that he hadn't thought he would come back, hadn't expected to return to face the consequences of his actions (the silver lining of having one's soul eaten, that it would never have a chance to burn for his sins). Or maybe it was that seeing it all written out like that made it more real. Maybe it was the fact that everyone knew what he was, and he couldn't fool himself now that he was no longer fooling the world. It was an ugly list, and Mordecai disliked ugly things, especially when they were true.
He signed his name at the bottom. It looked ugly too, on the page. Thankfully, his father would never see what Mordecai had done with the name he'd bequeathed, so grateful in his later years to be able to pass it on to the child he'd given up hope of having.
Rosalie would see it, when she reviewed Gabriel's paperwork, but Rosalie had always seen through him (that was another lie because he'd fooled her too, both less and more than the rest. She'd seen the hollowness and still believed all the words he'd never said, believed he could be more). She wasn't here now, though for what reason Mordecai didn't know (he could guess).
But the police inspector (the same one who had practically dared Mordecai to try and run for it two days earlier) had gone down to London with Ralph Argent in tow (it had been almost anticlimactic to see the man in person after so many communications through Effie and his other contacts) and left Mordecai behind. Technically, he was still in Chrestomanci's custody, and the interview in which Mordecai spilled his soul for a second time to someone he'd nearly gotten killed was not much more pleasant than the initial interrogation. When it was over, however, and Mordecai was staring at the typed statement with his signature at the bottom, Gabriel had thanked him.
"Argent has contributed quite handily to the case against him with his attack on the Castle, but this will help us dismantle the rest of his network," said Chrestomanci, removing the statement from in front of Mordecai and handing it to Yolande. "Evidence is still going over your Baker Street lodgings, but your old rooms should be ready shortly. Wilkinson is rather anxious to have the study room back, and it isn't meant for long term guests, in any case."
'Guest' was rather more generous a term than 'prisoner,' and Mordecai hadn't set foot in his old quarters since moving to London. He nodded. "I certainly don't want to run afoul of Tom in his own domain," he said. Perhaps not the best moment for a joke, but that had rarely stopped him. "Sir-" Mordecai tried to think of an appropriate way to apologize for lying to his employer for six years, but couldn't quite find one. There was a lengthy pause.
"Before you go," said Gabriel, when Mordecai didn't continue. Chrestomanci twisted his right hand in a cupping gesture. The truth spell, reinstated at the beginning of the interview because generosity was not the same as being an utter fool, was lifted. Another spell settled in its place, like an itch, but not so restrictive as the ones Christopher had broken. "I've secured you the liberty of the Castle but not the grounds for the time being. It took considerable argument, so I'd appreciate it if you didn't immediately have Christopher remove this one. I'm afraid he'd very likely oblige." Mordecai smiled weakly at that. "I'll see you at breakfast."
As it turned out, Mordecai's rooms were not quite ready yet. He debated taking the familiar route to Flavian's rooms, known almost as well as his own, where Mordecai was reasonably confident of finding either a sympathetic ear or a silent drinking partner, depending on which one Flavian judged he needed at the moment. Questions, even recriminations, would no doubt come, but could probably be avoided for tonight. Mordecai had been blessed far beyond his desserts in friends.
He almost took that route. He stood in the passageway for several minutes, before turning instead down another corridor, less frequently visited. A gentleman did not intrude on a lady's private quarters, and Mordecai had at least pretended to be a gentleman during his employment at Chrestomanci Castle.
Rosalie sat in an armchair with a cup of tea in her hands. The tea was augmented by a generous dollop of brandy, not something in which Rosalie commonly indulged, but something that she felt the last few days warranted. Gabriel had excused her - rather had insisted she take a rest - after the Wraith was carted away by the inspector, Millie settled in to her own room (near Christopher's but not adjoining to minimize the inevitable sneaking about), and Christopher's missing life collected from Series Ten. She had taken the respite once assured that he wouldn't overtax himself so soon after his rescue and pretended not to be aware that this also conveniently excused her from serving as witness to Mordecai's unexpurgated confession.
Gabriel was a dear, but Rosalie rather wondered what he thought to protect her from. She had heard quite enough ugliness spew from those lips, anyway, and she had rather thought she and Gabriel were of a mind when it came to facing unpleasant truths and dealing with them (unlike Mordecai who had shrouded himself in pleasant falsehoods for the entirety of their acquaintance, to a degree Rosalie had only begun to realize). Rosalie had promised herself, when she promised Mordecai his freedom (no, it was Christopher to whom she'd promised), that she would take this moment to grieve the friend who had been like a father and the trust that had been shattered. But Gabriel had been restored, and Mordecai, if still not innocent, appeared not as guilty as she'd believed him.
Rosalie had accepted his careless admissions, despised him for his lies, and noted his uneasiness with reluctant worry. She had watched him off to Eleven with her heart in her throat, so certain he would not come back alive that when he had and had walked straight into her arms, she hadn't had the wherewithal to think for relief, let alone push him away, until the crash of the Lobster Pot had sent them all running downstairs. Rosalie, who prided herself on her professionalism, must have looked anything but impartial when she informed Chrestomanci of the agreement she'd made during his absence.
Perhaps that was what Gabriel had in mind when he sent her to get some tea and perspective, or perhaps it had simply been as he said, a reward for managing the crisis in his absence. Either way, Rosalie was left sitting in her room with a slowly cooling cup of tea and trying very hard not wish either that she had asked Gabriel to be lenient or had recommended he throw away the key.
The knock at the door was a welcome distraction from her thoughts, until she opened it and found the subject of them standing outside. "Mr Roberts," she said evenly.
"Rosalie." He looked tired and off balance, as one would after an interrogation, but that could be feigned. Rosalie was learning how much could be feigned. "May I come in?"
She pursed her lips. The thought of leaving him standing in the corridor was very tempting, but that would lead to gossip (as if letting him in after such a public embrace as earlier would not). With a sigh, she stepped aside from the door, leaving space for him to pass.
Mordecai exhaled as if he'd been holding his breath and entered. "Thank you," he said, without his usual buoyant charm (he was very good at playing a part. What was usual, at all?). Hands in his pockets, the picture of the penitent.
Rosalie's expression grew more pinched. She returned to her chair and picked up her teacup and saucer from the table beside it. She didn't invite him to sit.
"I came to apologize," said Mordecai.
She held her gaze steady. There hadn't been much time to talk privately since she and Frederick had raided the Kensington townhouse. A part of Rosalie had hoped for some explanation for Mordecai's betrayal ever since - not an excuse, but some better reason than pure avarice. The hope had grown when he'd chosen to stay rather than flee custody, but Mordecai had shut down any conversation that broached too near the subject. A few regrets, he'd admitted. A very few. "For what?"
Mordecai released a self-deprecating laugh, the first familiar sound. "Where do I start?" He shifted from one foot to another. He never could stay still for long. It had always irritated her. "I'm sorry for my ungentlemanly behavior of this afternoon - and on previous occasions too numerous to list."
Rosalie swallowed. Well, really, what did she expect from him? She'd gathered enough from his and Christopher's explanation of the Dright to know that he'd never chosen to be at the Castle in the first place. "Under the circumstances, it's forgiven," she said. "I'm sure it won't happen again."
Mordecai froze in his awkward shifting. "No," he said, looking momentarily crestfallen. "It won't." He cleared his throat. "I also owe you an apology for lying to you since we met."
Rosalie took a sip of her tea, as she framed a reply. She'd forgotten the brandy. It brought a rush of color to her face as she set the cup back down in her lap. "Not only to me, Mordecai," she said sternly.
"No," said Mordecai again. "But I thought I may as well begin where I owed the most."
Was he incapable of saying what he meant? Could she believe him if he did? Rosalie stood, tea in hands. "You've spoken to Gabriel? And Christopher?" she said pointedly.
"Yes." Mordecai's expression took a form she'd rarely seen on it. "Christopher is unreasonably forgiving, even when he believes the worst," he said with wry fondness.
She didn't want to ask, but she did. "Is that why you lied for him?"
Frustration showed for the first time. "I had a heart, Rosalie, just not a soul." Mordecai pulled a hand from his pocket to run it over his face. "For all the good it did. He's a child. There was no point in ruining his life for a crime he wasn't even aware of committing, Especially after I'd already cost him three lives."
The teacup rattled. Mordecai reached for it, but Rosalie gripped the saucer before it fell, and he drew his hand back. When her hands (and hopefully her face) were still, she pressed her lips together and raised her eyes again. "The Asheth Temple cat." It hadn't taken much to put that together between Millie's appearance, the siege by the Arm of Asheth and Christopher's conversation with the creature. One of Mordecai's 'very few' regrets. Gabriel had been convinced the boy had lost most of his lives while spirit traveling. Considering the rate at which he lost them, she really should be surprised Mordecai hadn't claimed responsibility for more.
He didn't try to laugh it off this time, but he did avoid her eyes. "The raid on the magic mushroom dealers," he said. "And the dragon."
Chrestomanci's chief assistant immediately began to make connections. Rosalie's stomach turned on itself. She'd gone so far as to compliment his work on that operation, and to learn that instead of eliminating one of the Wraith's hardened criminals, they'd killed (however temporarily) a young boy… She felt the need for a wash.
"Flavian was distraught," she said, instead of acknowledging the first. Mordecai had claimed the incident with the dragonfire had been last year, but he had lied about so many things. "I hope you intend to apologize to him."
"He's next," said Mordecai, eyes on the carpet.
Rosalie nodded shortly. There was a silence, while it appeared Mordecai had no more words than she did. She sipped her tea, resisting the desire to drain the cup. He'd been coerced, a more generous voice whispered. Rosalie was aware of the damage an unscrupulous magician could work with just a man's signature, let alone his soul, but… he'd hidden it so well. There had been no sign of duress. That wasn't to say that Rosalie doubted Gabriel's word or even Christopher's. But she had once taken a certain satisfaction in knowing Mordecai Roberts better than the maids who giggled behind his back, even after that embarrassing misunderstanding at the opera, even (loth though she was to admit it) after his arrest, when clearly she hadn't known him at all.
"Gabriel has taken your parole?" she finally asked.
Mordecai cleared his throat and straightened, turning more business-like. "Provisionally," he said. "House arrest. Less restrictive spells as-" He winced. "-you can see."
She couldn't see, in that sense, not without her magic, but the fact that he was walking about the Castle attested to his words. She nodded again, then swallowed. "I accept your apology, Mordecai."
"Thank you." His shoulders slumped, despite the words. He coughed again. "I, ah, I'll see myself out, then." He started for the door, then paused and turned with his hand on the doorknob. She waited, expectantly, as she had waited in the past more times than she cared to think. "When-" he stopped, as he always had. "Good night, Rosalie."
She pressed her lips together. "Good night, Mordecai."
She drank her tea and poured herself another cup.
"My hero!" said Mordecai as he approached his apartments. He looked tired, but brightened with the words.
Flavian, standing outside the door with a bottle in one hand and the other raised to knock, smiled uncertainly at him. He stepped away to allow Mordecai to open the door and then followed him inside. The rooms hadn't changed much since Mordecai left. The model of his father's ship was gone from the mantle, moved to London four years ago, and probably being examined by government agents as they spoke. The liquor cabinet had been too bulky to move, however, and was still in its old place. Mordecai crossed to it and collected a pair of glasses. Flavian set the bottle on a table that had once been piled with books. "You didn't really get a proper welcome back," he said awkwardly.
Mordecai looked back at him, paused with a glass in each hand, then he waved for Flavian to sit. "Warmer than the first one," he said with half a smile. "Not that I'm complaining." He set down the glasses and examined the label on the bottle. "Not complaining at all," he said.
The brandy had been a Christmas gift from a collector Flavian had narrowly saved from poisoning the previous November, one of his last cases before Christopher's arrival at the Castle. "Well." Flavian shrugged his shoulders. "Gabriel's back. You're back. The Wraith is behind bars. It seemed like a good time to celebrate."
"I'll drink to all of the above," said Mordecai. He poured them each some brandy and then handed a glass to Flavian. "To happy endings!" he said, raising his own. He drank a good half of the liquor with rather more enthusiasm than he'd made the toast and then sat, watching the remainder swirl around in his glass.
It had been a long day, Flavian thought. A long three days since Mordecai had been brought back to the Castle under guard. He took a gulp of his own brandy, unsure what to say next.
Before he'd decided, Mordecai spoke again, quietly. "Thank you."
Quiet was not Mordecai. Or perhaps it was, Flavian corrected himself. How would he know? He made another attempt at conversation. "I was planning to share it, if we won that last cricket match, but you couldn't come."
Mordecai winced slightly. "Yes. I was-" He gestured vaguely and then laughed bitterly - at himself, Flavian thought. "Too many appearances to keep up. Thank you for saving it anyway."
They were almost there. Flavian wasn't certain if he wanted to broach the subject further or not. "Oh, well. What are friends for?" This time Mordecai's flinch was even more pronounced. "We are still friends?" Flavian asked. "Or was that a lie too?"
Mordecai downed the rest of his brandy. "You're a better friend than I have any right to ask for," he said to his empty glass. "I, on the other hand, am a terrible friend."
Flavian protested. "You stayed to help," he said. "You didn't have to. And you saved Gabriel. We wouldn't have known about Eleven without you."
But Mordecai did not want to talk about Eleven. "I couldn't very well maintain a proper wardrobe on the run," he said, and added before Flavian could reply. "Or stop for a cricket match. Not that I expect either in prison, but delaying the inevitable and all. Priorities." His rambling took on a more serious note. "In any case, the Wraith isn't the sort to leave loose ends. I wouldn't have gotten far."
Flavian tried to look at it dispassionately. It was a fair point even if the rest was clearly nonsense. Chrestomanci had lost two agents to the Wraith before Mordecai's too-successful infiltration, but then Mordecai had possessed resources they hadn't. "I suppose it would have depended on where you ran to." He'd never been good at being dispassionate. His voice wobbled.
"I'd have died first," said Mordecai, still to his glass.
Flavian looked up, startled by the lack of vehemence. Mordecai wasn't the dispassionate sort, either. Then he remembered that Mordecai had spent four years as a successful triple agent and revised his judgment. He opened his mouth, but Mordecai spoke again, wearily. "There would have been no refuge in Eleven anyway. I was always expendable there." He looked up, finally, and the color returned to his voice. "I wasn't expendable here. I valued that, even if not as well as I ought."
"Well," Flavian said, finding firm ground at last. He'd never liked how careless Mordecai could be with his own safety, but he understood it now. "It's good to know it meant something." He refilled his glass, and then Mordecai's when his friend held it out.
"More than you know." Mordecai, sipped his brandy, gave a rueful smile and then shook his head. "You and Christopher… insisting on thinking the best of me. You don't make apologizing easy." He paused, and then added, "I am sorry. I should have said that straight off."
Flavian shrugged as if it went without saying, although it didn't. "You're back," he said. Mordecai looked grateful enough that he meant it. "I've never seen Christopher so pleased about anything now that he's over his sulks."
"He was unhappy," said Mordecai quickly, as if it was something he'd been holding in for months. Presumably he had; he'd received Flavian's letters. "He'd had his whole life upended. He had no choice, and he didn't understand why. And he hadn't been given much reason to trust grown ups."
"Except you," observed Flavian.
Mordecai took another sip of brandy and grinned, the first one to actually reach his eyes. "Yes, well, I didn't claim he was a good judge of character. He worshipped his uncle until a few days ago." The grin faded abruptly. "Anyway, I'm hardly a grown up, if you ask Rosalie."
Some things, at least, had not changed. Flavian asked tentatively, "Have you spoken to Rosalie?"
"She accepted my apology," said Mordecai glumly. "Very politely."
"Oh." Flavian could see the difficulty. Rosalie and Mordecai were generally either working like two halves of a whole or sniping at one another like the proverbial old married couple. Sometimes both. They were never polite. "She'll come around," he offered.
"Do you think?" said Mordecai.
Flavian didn't actually know. "She was worried about you," he said anyway. "That's a good sign, I think. You'll be friends again."
Mordecai laughed shortly. "Friends." He raised his glass anyway. "To friendship!"