An Apology and A Promise

Marinette steeled her spine after a long market weekend and wandered the woods Sunday evening to clear her head. She found herself at the small building they used as a Church, as was usual for her when following Bastien. She knew inside, there would be comfort–usually, inside, there would be Father Clement, too. That was comfort, but she also knew that, this time, he was not the priest she really wanted to talk to. Standing there, silently, at the door, she basked in the safety of this place. The warmth, the comfort. She looked toward the stars under the bright waning moon and she knew God was there, telling her it was okay. Tonight, she needed to talk to Isabel. She stepped off the steps and started her way through the quiet, empty streets of the town. Back through the copse of wood that grew between the Market and the residences. She hummed a soft, loving tune to the trees and rocks that had always kept her safe. She ran her hands along the outstretched bushes and vines. She sung the soft tune she’d always whispered to Karalina as she swayed, skirts catching the light and the occasional grabby branch before she stepped away. God and the Mother had always protected her. A “Charmed Life”, Colibri had called it. Perhaps. It was certainly a blessed one, but she didn’t think that made her wrong. She stopped at Isabel’s door. She knew inside there would be people asleep–Isabel’s parents, for one, so she stepped around to a window she knew shared proximity with her friend and tapped out a soft tune on it. “Come outside, please.” She said with that tune, and disappeared toward the porch to wait.

Shuffling noises could be heard for a moment and then a long pause. Isabel’s sleep-tousled red hair covered a large portion of her face as she blinked at her friend in the moonlight. “Marinette?” She mumbled through the window. “Just a moment. I’ll be right out.” Marinette only needed to wait for a few minutes, as Isabel quietly opened the door to the porch and came outside in a simple robe and shawl, yawning. “My apologies. I know it isn’t even that late. I have found that I have had difficulty sleeping the last few nights, and exhaustion claimed me. Are you alright?”

Marinette wanted to perk up at the sight of her friend–one of the most important people in the world to her, but tonight she could not manage. Tonight she came for an apology, and such a thing was so alien to her it hurt her soul. She had never truly felt hurt by her friends before, and it was strange. Marinette turned her sea green eyes away, searched for help in the distance, but even God and the Mother could not help her with this. Her posture became closed, she fidgetted with her fingers. “Isabel…” She said softly, but then her cowardice overcame her and she changed the topic, “I am sorry you have slept poorly.” “It has probably been hard for you these last few days–these last few months. A lot has been happening. Did you.. and Sophie.. find out anything?” Sophie had already told her the story. She didn’t need to hear it from Isabel, but this questioning was more comfortable. Talking like normal. Speaking as if nothing was happening in her mind.

Isabel blinked and brushed her hair out of her face, trying to smooth it. She looked closer at Marinette while the girl shifted and fidgeted and avoided eye contact. “Has something happened? Yes, Sophie and I did get her necklace issue addressed, though Thomas likely helped move things along far more than I did. I don’t…like…the Veneaux’s Truth at all. The family is being taken advantage of, and it frustrates me.” She paused to see if this was actually the thing that Marinette was worrying about. (edited)

Marinette felt stared at, and she felt dishonest. She looked to the side, back at Isabel, to the side again. Those bright, almost glowing seafoam eyes flashing around for escape and then finally closing. “Isabel… You know how I asked you not to bring Alphonse? Because he makes me feel bad by treating me like I’m stupid?” Her voice got smaller as she spoke, before finally she took a breath and even that sing-songiness left her voice as she asked, almost like tearing off a bandage, “whywouldyoujoinin? IunderstandhethinksI’mstupidbutwhywouldyoumakemefeelthatway?” She had both eyes closed, tears on her lashes, gripping her skirts tight in her fist as she trembled. She didn’t stop talking, “IdothinkaboutwhatI’mdoing. Iamsmart! IamnotjustsomechildjustbecauseIbelieveinpeople. IamNOTstupid!”

Isabel’s eyes widened as the torrent of hurt came pouring out of her friend. “Oh no.” “Oh, Marinette.” She placed a hand on her chest like it was wounded, and then extended it, open and inviting, and asking silently for permission to touch her. “I am so sorry that is what you are thinking, and that I am the cause of it. I didn’t…” She broke off, her eyebrows drawn together in thought. “Ma chere, you are most certainly not stupid. I have never thought that of you. I am so sorry.”
With a long breath, she paused to see if Marinette was seeking explanation, comfort, or something else entirely. The concern and shame and worry was evident all over her face, as Isabel had never been talented at hiding her emotions.

Marinette rushed forward at the hand and wrapped her arms around Isabel, sobbing into her chest as she hugged her. “I felt so small, Isabel.” She hiccupped between sobs, “He snickered at everything we said, and then you.. you said I did not think before I acted.. and I… I stopped hearing anything.” Another sob, another hiccup, “But I do! I was thinking!” She insisted, muffled, into her friend’s shirt, “Lysenna said something. I couldn’t even understand what it was.” She sniffled, whimpering.

Isabel silently held her sobbing dear friend. Her arms encircled her and she stroked Marinette’s dark curls while tears soaked into her robe. She leaned down and pressed her cheek against the soft hair. “I should have handled everything differently, little love. I am sorry. There was so little information all around, and there are misunderstandings. But regardless of any of that, I deeply regret hurting you.”

She spoke softly into Marinette’s hair. “Alphonse and I had been speaking off and on throughout the day about how, so often, it feels that many within Luisant act without thinking…myself included. We poke and prod at things we don’t fully understand just to do it – to interact with something, without having a greater plan. Without fully being informed and understanding the implications and outcomes.”
“And my comment was that this situation with the meeting with Thomas was another example. I had meant we all were guilty of it. Not just you.”

Marinette nodded her head, and snuffled, “It’s not just that Alphonse teases me, you know…” She muttered, before looking up, “It’s also that Thomas and he are most comfortable being misanthropic. When they are around each other, they can retreat to that comfort instead of facing us; instead of hearing us. We can’t help him if he can run. That’s why I go to him alone. Why I only bring you if anyone.” She frowns, “I thought about it. I think a lot about it. Thomas needs to feel wanted and needed; he needs connection. I thought about it hard. You.. just weren’t there to tell my thought process to, because you were busy with Alphonse.” She sounded bitter, childish even. “Did I know Thomas’ ideas would go to his powers, first? Yes. I did. Did I know where he knew his information from? Yes. I did. But I cannot just drag him out of a hole. He has to take steps. I have to let him take those steps.” She sighed, before letting go of her friend and rubbing her eyes, standing firm. “Alphonse thinks he knows so much about everything, but he is the stupidest person when it comes to people I have ever met.”

Marinette thinks hard, quiet for a long moment.
“I… don’t want you to become mean, Isabel. Alphonse has chosen to not care about anyone around him except one or two people. That’s his path. Maybe.. don’t let him pull you on it–because it’s not a good path.” Marinette tilts her head, “Just because people come to different conclusions, doesn’t mean they don’t think.. and if Alphonse were half as smart as he thought he was, he’d know this is the truth, because he is known primarily for opening hellboxes when they specifically say ‘do not open’ on them. And I think he thinks he’s very thoughtful about it.”
“Alphonse makes you happy. I like that about Alphonse. But he treats me like dirt, so please–just.. don’t learn that.”

Isabel sighed long and slow. “Come. Sit down with me, Marinette.” She disentangled from her friend, sank down to porch steps, and patted her hand on the space next to her. “There’s a lot to talk about here. Why I brought Alphonse. Thomas. Our outlooks. Relationships and change. Fear. Love. And second chances.” The rings under Isabel’s eyes are more apparent in the light on the porch as she looks up at Marinette. “Do you mind if we talk more about it all?”

Marinette sits down with Isabel, pulling her knees to her chest as she does. “I am fine with you talking more about it. I have said my piece.” She looks at her friend and settles in to listen.

Isabel nods with a slight smile. “I hope you will still have more to say.” She fingers at a woven necklace around her neck, takes a breath, and continues. “At this point you are likely far more familiar with Thomas than I am, but I have had several…confrontations? Discussions? with him. I think you are correct that he and Alphonse enable each other in many ways, and they have many of the same problems. You can see where their pain stems from. I believe that, even though he is unlikely to admit it, Alphonse is both afraid of losing his father and also resentful of him. And he has a protective streak. I don’t think he liked that I barred his father from the thicket, and he hasn’t liked the methods being employed to help Thomas back into the community. He felt like his father was forced to go to Convocation against his will, and when he asked where I was going after our battle in the tunnels of Chiropoler, I told him that I was going with a small group to see Thomas. He was upset that it sounded like a group was going to bully his father more into things he did not want to do, and he felt he had a right to be there as his son.” She paused to look over at Marinette. “I was not actually told why we were going to see Thomas, though I did want the opportunity to talk to him more as your goals are the same as mine regarding him. I told Alphonse that I agreed he should be able to see his own father but that his biting comments hurt you and I did not want him being unkind to you if he came. He agreed, though he said that he was under no obligation to not mock anyone else.”

“I don’t appreciate the fact that me asking Thomas to come and saying I’d try for him if he does come is being counted as ‘forcing’. But he has his rights to his opinions.” Marinette admits, but she’s bristling and annoyed, obviously.

Isabel reached out and rested her hand on Marinette’s. “I think that you are eager to help. You see the pain that Thomas is in. You see the self destructive behavior, and you are trying so hard. You are trying much harder than Alphonse has, and there are likely complex feelings surrounding that as well. He also has not embraced the church historically, and has been very judged by it. I once had a whole speech at Convocation that I gave about his sinful behavior.”

“Alphonse is allowed to feel conflicted about the church. He’s allowed to feel conflicted about me.” Marinette admits. “But I am not about to be accused of forcing his father into things when his father decided to hurt the Rocheaux in my head in order to protect his secret. Alphonse can think what he wants, and you are a safe person for him to vent that to,” She admits, “And that’s okay. He needs safe places. But that doesn’t mean he gets to act out that childish accusation on me. Venting and treating me like trash are different.” She exhales, “I am historically allowing people to step over my boundaries. I have protected Alphonse when people have wanted to harm him. I have stood in-between him and the people of this town’s misunderstandings more times than anyone else, I would say. I don’t deserve his admonishment. His feelings cannot be helped–that is his hurt manifesting–but actions can.”

Isabel nods. “Thomas’s actions were infuriating to me, and have colored my interactions with him since. I am still angry when I think about it. And I should have warned you that Alphonse was coming. I should have talked to you more about it and not just showed up with him. Everything was so chaotic and hurried, and I made a mistake and I am sure you felt betrayed.”

Marinette nods, “I did. But I have told you, and you have apologized, and that is all I needed. Minor mistakes are minor–and this is minor.” She assures Isabel, leaning toward her to place her head aginst her shoulder in adoration. “If it helps you to know–or Alphonse to know, if you wish to tell him–I didn’t even succeed at my end of the bargain for Thomas to show up. I said ‘if I bring your wife back, will you come’ and he said, ‘maybe’. When we talked, behind the tree, I said ‘I did not succeed; you didn’t have to come.. I appreciate you.’ and he said, ‘.. Well, you blinded a small animal for me. I felt that deserved something.'” She says, “There was nothing coerced. I asked him to do a thing. I said I would try to do something for him if he would consider it. We both did something for each other, because we’re becoming friends. That’s all. Because I’m trying. Very hard.”
Marinette fluffs her skirt, “I made that deal–with Reshtur, that weird spirit. I made it, because I asked Thomas what would make him happy. That was all. I needed nothing for me, and I wanted him to know I wanted to help him.” she says, “I didn’t force him anywhere. I asked.”

Isabel rested her head against Marinette’s “Thank you for accepting my apology.” There was a long pause. “I don’t want you to make any more deals with Reshtur.”

“And it wasn’t ‘what would make you happy so I can get you to do something for me’, though I had been asking before what could make him rejoin the community, and yes, I think convocation is for that.” She nods, “I know. I knew you wouldn’t like it. If I didn’t like it, you certainly wouldn’t.”
“I am much, much less concerned about spirit deals than you are–and even I did not want to do that.”
Marinette admits, softly, “I glossed over what I had done, because I knew you would not like it. That’s why you didn’t quite understand what deal I had made to get Thomas to convocation. That’s why, probably, Alphonse thinks I forced him.”
She sighs, “I would have explained it fully if we had any time alone together; you know I would have. But I was.. ashamed. I had thought it through, and it was not good. But sometimes, you have to make the wrong decisions to help someone make the right ones.. and I am strong, and able to find my way back to God. I have never been without his love. Colibri said I lived a ‘charmed existence’ on Saturday night.. and I cannot deny that. God has always been close to me. Always protected and cherished and loved me. Even when he tested me, he sent me people like you to make sure I would be okay.”

Isabel frowns and her eyebrows knit closer together. “Marinette…” She exhales, gathering her thoughts.
“I know that you are strong, but there is always a better way, even if we cannot see it. You may lead a charmed life, but others do not. You made a deal. Then Sebastian made a deal. And others likely did too. Your wrong decisions also affect others. Knowing that Thomas would try to solve Sophie’s necklace problem with Lazarine rites but hoping that good would come of it also potentially involves Sophie in partaking of those rites. The Triumverate and demons do not come to us when we are content and confident in our plans. They approach us when we are frightened. Lost. Unsure and feeling like we have no way out. They come with temptations and an easier way of doing things….they come when we are in pain.”
She strokes Marinette’s hair again

Marinette shakes her head, “I had no intention of Thomas using Lazarine rites to help Sophie. I was asking for his knowledge–knowledge he’d gotten from his delving, certainly, but that’s not the same. Alphonse also could have walked Sophie there, but when I prayed to God for an answer, God didn’t say Alphonse; God reminded me of Thomas.” She seems to pause a moment, before making an aside, “And I was the last to make a deal with the spirit, so, I disagree with your assessment that I had any impact on others’ choices then.” She shook her head, “But you are correct that every wrong choice has an impact. I have weighed those impacts.”

Marinette sighs, “You should probably have the whole of it–the situation with Sophie. Lysenna was the first to notice the ring. Bassy and I figured out it was connected to Truth. I walked away to pray. I sat, praying to God for an answer on how to find Truth, and in that prayer, I was reminded of Thomas. I tried to walk to Thomas right then. They stopped me. They said do not disturb him. They said Midnight at the Graveyard. That’s why I went to Thomas, Isabel. Because I prayed.” The emphasis on They was meant to convey the voices in her head, and it was fairly clear in its impact.
“Not for his Rites. Not even for his guidance. Because I prayed to God about what to do, and this was the answer I got in that prayer. Alphonse may say that is not thinking before acting, but I would have suspected you to have a different opinion. That’s why it hurt more. When we arrived, we talked. That was the answer–that was the thing that God sought. We came around to your rites in the end, but Thomas could help you find them. And maybe Alphonse following you was part of God’s plan, too. But that wasn’t a mistake. It wasn’t the wrong decision, Isabel. Reshtur was.”

“Reshtur is not a spirit the way you describe them, my dear one. Reshtur is something else – and I suspect it is a demon. I think you don’t recognize the impact you have. I admit I was distracted – Alphonse had passed out, I felt drunk, and I had a terrible temptation to give in to all kinds of possibilities in that place. But from my perspective, it appeared that you were one of the first to entertain the creature- to consider its offer, even if you were the last to come to an actual agreement with it.” Isabel sighs, her stare dropping to her hands. “I know I hurt your feelings, and I certainly am not questioning your intelligence. Every single person in this town, myself included, has acted with limited information based on a dream, a vision, a prayer, a drug-induced journey, or ritualistic hypnosis. Alphonse in particular is certainly not an exception to rushing in and taking action on complete impulse. I’m not faulting you for praying and acting upon it…though I do still question at times the intentions of your…passengers. I just want to caution you that in your desire to help and save others by pulled them up, you don’t instead become pulled down. Perhaps I have the same concern for you that you have for me.” She smiles softly.

“I think it’s.. important that we both have those concerns for each other. That way, when we’re stumbling down, we can pull each other upward.” Marinette comments, before nodding again.
“I wasn’t the one who talked to the thing first, but I can understand how you thought so–I also believe that my choices have the most impact on you, specifically.” She considers, “I apologize, Isabel.” She says, finally.
“As I said before, I don’t exactly feel good about what happened with Reshtur.. but I didn’t start that. I wasn’t the first. It walked around to everyone, and the first time it came to me, I flat out denied it without a thought. I only entertained it after everyone else had–if anyone was following the leader on that, it was me.

Going to Tomas, though? My passengers just stopped me from storming off right then. Prayer told me to find him. I just waited until I knew where he was instead of walking into the woods immediately.”
She sits down on the porch and considers her thoughts. “I know I will make mistakes. But I love you, and I love God, and I will not stray from either of you. Will I fail sometimes? Certainly. But I will not turn from Benalus. On everything important to me, I swear it.”

“I love you, Marinette.” Isabel whispers.
“Thank you for coming to me. Thank you for telling me you were hurt. Thank you for giving me the chance to say I’m sorry and to hold you.”
She reaches out to pull Marinette closer to her and rest her head on top of hers.
“There is so much happening. There is so much changing, and I sometimes feel as though I cannot keep track of all the threads and how they connect. But if we hold onto each other, we’ll weather the storm – whatever the world looks like when the clouds clear.”

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