Silence answered Alisaie's three solid thumps on the door to Mordred's room in the First.
She let it draw out for precisely two seconds before clucking her tongue in annoyance and knocked again, trying to temper her impatience down into something that wasn't liable to snap at him when he opened it. Because he would open it. She saw him shuffle into his room not fifteen minutes ago! With a bundle of blankets and what looked like half of the Crystal Exarch's bookshelf, so she knew for a fact what he was doing.
More quiet. Was he asleep? Now Alisaie began to worry. Mordred had shrugged off their concerns after he finished "shitting the Light all over Emet-Selch", as he so tactfully put it, but that did not mean he wasn't a miqo'te with mortal limits. And Alisaie knew better than most how painfully mortal those limits were. Maybe he was really just catching up on sleep, in which case...she supposed the questions she had could wait...
And then door opened.
Alisaie breathed a sigh of relief, then squared her shoulders in irritation of herself, and pushed it wider to step inside.
The rest of her concern evaporated when she saw the lump of blankets on the ground, Mordred's staff held unsteadily in the one hand emerging from beneath them. He had been taking awhile to answer, she realized, because he hadn't wanted to get up from the nest. He'd grabbed his staff, probably crawled all the way to the door, then used the hook on it to pull the handle down, open.
"Honestly, how lazy can you be?" Alisaie scoffed, though without any heat behind it. She shut the door, grabbed the staff out of Mordred's hand, ignored his muffled garbled protest, and pointedly leaned it on the wall out of reach. A quick sweep of the room told her he had probably been lying on the bed previously, since that was where most of his books were. "You are so very dignified for the Warrior of Light, do you know that? Up, cat. Shoo. I need to speak to you."
"Then speak," Mordred grumbled. A velvety black ear poked out at last, and mismatched eyes glowered at her as Mordred tried to retreat further into his blankets. He was really going to just curl up there, on the floor? Something told Alisaie he would, if only to spite her. "I'm listening. You could've also just climbed through the window. 's opened."
"There are stairs for civilized people like me who would like to do the normal thing," replied Alisaie. She stepped over him gingerly and put her hands on her hips, examining the bundle at her feet.
If Mordred was truly tired, he would have called her over the linkshell right then and there to tell her come back later. He had done that before, when he felt unwell -- after one of his respiratory attacks, usually; or like on the bad days at the end of the Dragonsong War, his usually low and solid voice cracking through -- and Alisaie was fairly certain that wasn't the case now. If nothing else, Mordred had always been...forward about how he was feeling. He wouldn't lie. He could not lie, was the truth; stress showed its physical signs on him too easily for that. It was one of the many things Alisaie liked about the miqo'te, fussy as he could sometimes be. He, like her, cut quick to the chase.
In conclusion: he was just being fussy now, like a cat whose feeding time was late by five minutes, because he was feeling fussy.
Alisaie knew these moods struck Mordred time and again, and that they weren't fatal. She could (grudgingly) pet his ears later or something to make up for it. (The purring alone would be worth it.)
So she bent down, took the edge of the blankets in her hands, and yanked. Hard.
Mordred seemed to have anticipated that, however, because he managed to hang onto them, although he did make a very undignified miaow! noise.
"Come on, Mori," Alisaie grunted and shoved at the blankets. When he didn't budge, she switched to the other side instead and began to roll him out of them. "You are a miqo'te, which you have reminded me on several occasions is not a cat."
"You cruel woman," Mordred huffed, appalled. "You come into my room, you disarm me, now you're evicting me from my rest?! Haven't I endured enough? A'VETT SHE'S PICKING ON M--"
"A'vett isn't here," Alisaie pointed out, and grinned a little meanly. Flashbacks to when she had to roll Alphinaud out of bed on important days; very pleasant ones. "Only I. The 'cruel woman', as you say. And if you don't get up right now, I'll tell you how fast I can proc a Verflare--"
"Oh, that's a low blow--"
"Mordred," Alisaie said. She let go and squatted down next to the blankets, taking a deep breath. "I really do need to talk to you."
Then Mordred shuffled the blankets aside and sat up.
He wasn't naked, like Alisaie had been half afraid he would be (she rolled Thancred out of bed once, and the regrets, especially when Urianger also sat up in the same bed but Alisaie shushed her mind, quick). Tousled, yes, but dressed from head to toes as always. The Crystarium was hardly chilly, but Mordred tugged a sleeve down anyway, to hide the lightning scars Alisaie knew were there. She ignored that.
"What's up?" he asked, combing his fingers through his messy hair. His eyes focused on her now, and Alisaie didn't find their intensity as off-putting as most people did. She liked it when Mordred looked at her like that, picking up cues and thoughts Alisaie wasn't really good at putting into words.
She hated that he had to do it, though. She hated this, too -- not having the right words, not knowing what to say, not being able to verbalize how she felt. Mother had always said it was important to be able to verbalize your feelings, because words were power and sometimes just saying things out loud would put them into perspective. It was a lesson Alisaie had taken to heart, it had worked for her time and again, and it frustrated her now when she couldn't make it work.
But that was why she was here. Mordred's-- Even if he did not speak, or could offer nothing, sometimes his company was enough for Alisaie to put things together enough to force them out.
"You want me to guess?" Mordred asked her sincerely. He tilted his head this way and that, examining her critically. His large ears flicked front, then back, lion's tail sweeping the floor. It was an honest question.
"I-- No. I'm fine, thank you." Alisaie glanced behind her at the sky, which was now nearing dusk. Already she could see the hints of the brightest stars, and told herself the people in the Inn right now were seeing the same thing. The thought, and the truth of it, gave her a measure of comfort, enough that she could get her feet under her again and move to flop down on Mordred's bed.
He followed her, taking the blankets and dumping them back on the mattress. Then he sat down at her side and curled his tail loosely around Alisaie. It made her smile, just a little.
"It's..." Alisaie sighed. Here it came again. That blockade in her throat. She forced the words through it, speaking slowly, not caring she might sound disjointed. "We've won, and I should feel happy. I am. I do feel happy. And to some measures, I even feel glad that we have...that we have encountered Tesleen before the end. So that I at least know I laid her to rest.
"But--" Alisaie lifted her eyes back to the window and the rapidly approaching dusk and the stars, and that ache in her chest redoubled. It was almost difficult to breathe. "Gods, Mordred. I wish Tesleen had been here to see the night sky return. She would have cried with happiness to see Halric-- to see him freed of the Light. To see him cry and speak. Gods."
Her eyes stung. Alisaie wiped at them angrily, and was glad they were dry yet. But they wouldn't be for long. She didn't care, though. Mordred was one of the few people she could cry in front of. It wasn't a comfortable thought but...but he deserved this much from her, and she came to him, so she wouldn't chicken out.
"I know everyone in the Crystarium, in this world, feels the same about somebody they loved and lost. I know that. And Tesleen is...safe now, wherever she is now. Yet it hurts. And I hate it." Alisaie's mouth thinned. She took a deep, deep breath, and turned to Mordred. Hesitated for a moment, before she blurted out, "Haurchefant. Was it-- Did it get better?"
Mordred's brow pinched. He did not respond for a moment, and Alisaie worried that she had overstepped. It was a wound scabbed over for him, she knew. It was a wound scabbed over for his friend, too, even A'vett who had loved that man the most (a friend of Mordred's Alisaie never knew, and wished it wasn't so). But that didn't mean she should have picked at it, probably--
"It will get better," Mordred said, breaking her out of her regrets. His voice was low, gentle, and he looked at the sky as well, his gaze wistful. Far away. "At least for me it did, and I think it will for you too, since we've always been rather alike. Some days you'll miss Tesleen more than others. Someday you'll feel like you could've done something more -- and that'll weigh on you more than the fact that you are doing something now."
"Living?" Alisaie snorted. She hated how wetly it came out.
"Living," Mordred agreed, and fiercely: "Defending the things they loved, and fought for. Waking up everyday and seeing, knowing, that they're gone but also seeing, knowing, the things they put their faith in are here. And that we've inherited it, and will carry it forward."
He scooted closer, resting his head to hers, his soft ear stroking her hair and she was too tempted by the warmth to protest, so she leaned in. "Tesleen believed in gentleness in the face of oblivion, didn't she," he said. "She believed in giving the ill and the unfortunate a dignified, happy way to leave this world behind. In mercy and compassion when faced with someone who posed a very real threat to her, no matter that she didn't know them and had no written-down obligation to give a rat's ass how they'll die."
"But she did," Alisaie said sharply. "She did care, she made it her business."
"She did," Mordred agreed. He drew away and looked at her, and his expression was grim but kind. Tired. "And there'll be hundreds, thousands who'll think she was a fool. To die trying to protect somebody already dying. That her defiance against apathy was just a pipe dream, and thought that because she died for what she believed in, was proof that she was wrong."
He said these things out of experience, Alisaie realized. She heard it in his exhaustion, the smoldering anger in his words.
"So live on," Mordred said. "Live on, remembering that she chose to be kind in the face of an entire world telling her it didn't fucking matter, that the end was near anyway. Every morning you get up and refuse to back down, to give up -- that would've meant a lot to Tesleen, yeah?"
Alisaie took a deep, shuddering breath.
Then, reluctantly, she whispered, "She would have been happy. And proud. But she would scold me for putting myself in so much danger." She sniffed. "Urgh. I could hear it in her voice. 'I know you're very capable, Alisaie, but please take better care of yourself! We count on you.'"
"We do count on you," Mordred grinned. He rubbed his head to hers again, a deep rumbling purr vibrating through the both of them. "Grief's a necessary thing, Alisaie. It means we cared about somebody enough to miss them while they're gone, after all. And you're absolutely allowed to feel cut up about it."
"I know that," Alisaie huffed. "It's just some days I'm bloody tired of feeling like I swallowed a mouthful of lead and washed it down with cyanide all the time, when I remember Tesleen. She deserves-- She deserved to be remembered with love."
"That's the grief, that's not how you'll remember her," Mordred answered calmly.
"The grief is a poison and I want it out."
Mordred clucked his tongue. But he did not chastise her like Alphinaud might, and he did not look at her with concern. Instead he smiled, wry, like in agreement.
Alisaie appreciated it.
"Wanna go grab something to drink?" he offered.
"You? Drinking?" Alisaie made a face at him. She had never seen Mordred imbibe alcohols, and given how he was barely taller than her at twenty-something, she doubted he could hold his liquor. Besides, she hated drinking.
"You think I'd buy you a jug of rum and tell you to drown your sorrows?" Mordred retorted. "No. I mean a comfy kind of drink. Maybe hot chocolate."
"You always suggest hot chocolate." Alisaie got up because suddenly she wanted to be moving, to somehow...work the lingering terrible feelings out of her bones, though she already felt loads better. A little lighter, and not as liable to crack. She stretched, grunted when her joints cracked, and strode over to the small pantry across the room to start rummaging around. Mordred had his own stove in here, the Exarch likely aware of his lazy habits. (And that it was better to provide Mordred with the means to get comfortable than to leave him to his own devices, which would sometimes end in accidental arson). "Oh, and look what's in here. More hot chocol-- Is this milk? You put milk in the pantry?!"
"Where else would I put it?" Mordred huffed, getting up to follow her. He put a kettle on the stove, clenched his fist and dropped an aether-formed ice cube in it with Blizzard -- ignored Alisaie rolling her eyes -- and turned it on.
"Where it will not spoil," she said. A sniff of the content told her it was entirely in good condition, however, and when she tilted up the bottom she saw the seal there and snorted. "You use your brilliant craftsman's talents for things like these?"
Mordred grinned at her, ears flicking. "What other use is talent for?"