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. 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
Mordecai had debated whether or not to actually go down to breakfast the next morning. His head ached, for one thing. He'd stayed up rather too late drinking with Flavian, and that wasn't conducive to making ordinary conversation with the Castle staff without the distraction of the previous days' crisis. It was certain to be awkward, at best. Then again, Gabriel was expecting him, and Mordecai did not particularly want to press his luck by not appearing when expected. Besides, Cook's eggs and bacon were not to be passed up when one had the opportunity.
The breakfast room was about half full when Mordecai entered, which was optimal. Too few people would mean being forced into conversation whether they chose or not. Too many would have made his late arrival even more glaringly obvious. Flavian was just sitting down and indicated the chair next to him. Mordecai took it, gratefully.
Gabriel nodded at him, which Mordecai took as a sign that he'd made the right choice in attending, and then addressed the table at large. "I'll be in London most of the day. We're still tracking down what the Wraith did with the magic he stole and tracing his buyers for the other items. Frederick, I'll take your report before I go. Flavian, I think resuming Christopher's regular lessons as quickly as possible is in everyone's best interest. Millie can sit in. I don't doubt she's had excellent training, but it wouldn't be amiss to evaluate exactly where she is. Mordecai, the butler will need your assistance with the clean up in the Great Hall. Everyone else, Rosalie will have your assignments."
Mordecai held back a grimace. Cleaning crew was a step up from make work and much better than being left to cool his heels in idleness. Not to mention that he'd certainly contributed to the mess in question, both literally and figuratively, but it still wasn't particularly glamorous. He was already regretting not making the most of his jaunt to Series Ten to coax Christopher's life out of the wall of the Temple of Asheth. It wasn't his favorite destination, but it was likely the last spirit trip he would take for a very long time.
Frederick Parkinson had never been particular friends with Mordecai Roberts, but he had never really disliked the man either. They ought to have been better friends, perhaps. They were both spirit travelers, both aides to Chrestomanci, both fond of cricket. True, Mordecai had once nearly broken Frederick's nose, but that had been an accident. True, Frederick had arrested Mordecai, but that had been an unpleasant duty. The satisfaction of cracking a case paled next to the disappointment of betrayal by a colleague. They shared the half-conscious fraternity of two men who had been rejected by the same woman. Rosalie had been politeness itself when she turned down Frederick's offer of marriage. What precisely she'd said to Mordecai was more a matter of speculation, but they'd returned from the opera one night with frost edging every interchange, and Mordecai had left precipitously for London within a fortnight, so it had clearly not been favorable.
Frederick had not renewed his own suit. He was fond of Rosalie, but not the sort to push his affections where they were not returned, nor to take years in recovering from the blow (whether Rosalie's 'no' or Mordecai's cricket ball to the face in practice). Mordecai, who had never been orthodox in courtship, was juvenile in disappointment which did, admittedly, taint Frederick's opinion of him. The man could not be dignified about ianything/i, but Frederick had believed him honest at heart up until Mordecai had walked right through the watch Frederick had set for the Wraith's operative. It had been a heavy blow, even though they hadn't been close.
And perhaps, it had crossed his mind to wonder how the woman they both cared for would be affected by the betrayal. Frederick had reported back to Rosalie once he traced Mordecai's body to Kensington. She'd shown no sign of particular interest in the case beyond the white-lipped anger that would be expected were it any of the rest of them, but she had agreed to Mordecai's release in exchange for Christopher's help. Mordecai had demonstrated no remorse and very little shame for anything except getting icaught/i, but he had, Frederick couldn't help but notice, answered Rosalie's questions (however flippantly). And he'd stayed, with nothing keeping him except his own whim, or possibly isome/i sense of responsibility, to help retrieve Gabriel. To add to that, there was the bag in Frederick's pocket. As a lead operative in the case, he'd been called on to help go over Mordecai's government-provided lodgings for evidence. There really hadn't been much incriminating in the two-room flat. Mordecai had enough sense for ithat/i. The place had looked very characteristic of its tenant: pressed shirts and immaculately cared for suits in the wardrobe, a spray of peacock feathers and a model ship on the mantel, a gramophone with a collection of records - and shoved to the back of one bottom drawer, a box with a rose cut diamond ring.
It was so clearly custom-designed, the setting for the diamond overlapping in golden petals around the stone, that Frederick hadn't even needed to read the inscription inside the band to know for whom it had been intended. It was a surprisingly sentimental line of poetry (but then, no more sentimental than keeping the ring for the four years Mordecai had spent in London). Frederick had felt slightly uncomfortable reading it, but his duty as an investigator overrode the feeling of spying on a colleague. Mordecai had sacrificed any claim to privacy when he accepted the Wraith's bribes. If anything, he could have shown enough regard for Rosalie to leave her out of the mess he'd gotten himself into. Frederick had no sympathy for him.
Still, after all the evidence had been logged, Frederick had found himself requesting permission to sign out the ring and return it to its owner. It was better than Rosalie coming across it unawares, after all, and it wasn't as if she could be implicated in Mordecai's misdeeds.
Frederick met Mordecai at the door to his rooms just before supper. He looked fresher and more polished than he had since his arrest, although his smile wavered slightly when he saw Frederick. Rather than prolong the awkward encounter, Frederick drew the bag from his pocket and thrust it at Mordecai, who took it automatically.
"There will be a constable up from London with the rest in a few days," he explained gruffly. "Gabriel or Rosalie will notify you."
Mordecai upended the cloth bag into his hand. His lips parted when he saw the box, and then he gave a short, pained laugh. "You must have had to search hard to find that," he said. "But then, you've always been talented." He didn't ask whether Frederick had examined the ring inside, seeming to take it for granted that he had. Mordecai's hand closed around the box, and then he tucked it into his jacket. "It had to be you, didn't it?"
Under other circumstances, it would have been a compliment. "It could have been Rosalie," Frederick pointed out. "It seemed kinder to spare her returning it twice."
Mordecai's mouth opened again. He closed it on whatever he'd thought to say, then tried again. On his third attempt, he managed it. "She deserves that," he said. Hastily, he added, "Well done, all around. I'm sorry for my part in making it difficult, and if it wasn't difficult, you can salve my pride by pretending it was. Not that I expect my ego is of any concern to you. Pride goeth before destruction - but you know the rest, I imagine. Are you going down to supper?"
Frederick had always heard the saying as 'Pride goeth before a fall,' but he supposed the sentiment was equally applicable either way. "Directly," he said to the last question. How to respond to Mordecai's apology (if it could be called that) escaped him, so he suited the action to words. Let Mordecai do what he wanted with the ring - bury it, pack it away again or - Frederick turned back abruptly. "I wonder you didn't sell it."
Mordecai, one hand on the doorknob as if to head back to his room, looked back. "We all have our weaknesses," he said, wryly.