It was a tough past few days, but Elise was surviving.
She was glad she had Mel around as company. If it wasn't for her, Elise wouldn't have been able to keep it all together. She felt grossly overwhelmed to the point where she could hardly think straight, and she grew so, so tired.
But she knew that she had to persevere. They all did. They all needed each other, and she knew that there wasn't anything to do but move forward.
Elise said she would trust Bo to make it safe with Elias, and she did. And that was all she could do.
It didn't mean that she wouldn't get stressed out, though.
Elise felt she had been walking in a trance, still in a state of disbelief and shock, but she did her best to stay present, especially when she was being spoken to. She didn't mind when she was alone, though. It gave her time to think and figure out how to be less overwhelmed by everything.
She sat alone by herself towards the end of the day, waiting for Mel to return as she made her rounds to check-in on everyone. Elise spaced out, feeling like only a few minutes had passed until Mel returned.
"Oh, hey," she said softly, looking up as she watched her approach. "Back already?"
Mel offered Elise a small smile, but it looked a little strained.
"Yeah," she said quietly, taking a seat next to Elise with a heavy sigh.
Elise hesitated, noticing that Mel seemed to be frustrated. "Is everything alright?" she asked.
Mel leaned forward, rubbing her forehead and then propping her head up in her palm as she looked over to Elise.
"It's just Hendrik," she said lowly. "It's exhausting being around someone so condescending all the time. It feels like I'm talking to a wall. A wall that assumes I'm an idiot."
"Ah," Elise said quietly, nodding with understanding. "Yeah... he can be like that sometimes. It is exhausting."
Mel let out another sigh.
"Is it just because I'm a woman? Is it because I'm younger than him? He was never like this with Bo," Mel said.
Elise had to pause and think, reflecting on the times when Hendrik had been condescending towards her. She felt like he had been, but her mind was growing blank at specific instances.
Was he ever like this to her?
"I don't know if it's because of that," Elise thought out loud. "I've known him to be cordial with other younger women... Maybe he doesn't like that Bo put you in charge."
"He probably doesn't like that Bo left, either," Mel said. "But I had no control over that. I can't fly. He was going to leave anyway. There's nothing I could do to stop him."
Elise could hear Mel's frustration, but also her sadness leaking through over Bo's absence.
"Did you wish you could stop him?" Elise asked quietly.
"Yes," Mel said, frowning deeply. "I don't think he should've gone alone. I know he thinks he can handle it on his own, but I had to bring him back from death's door only moments before he flew off. He's not invincible, Elise, even though sometimes he pretends to be around the others. And I can't help but be worried for him. It's -- it's not that I don't want him to help Elias. But I'm worried about Bo too."
Elise stared down at the ground, feeling her heart ache again over the whole situation.
"I'm worried about him too," she said softly.
"It just-- it feels like Hendrik blames me for some reason," Mel said. "I don't see why I should be punished for taking on the responsibility of leadership that I was asked to take. Ordered, is more like it. I know we're only together for a little while longer, it's just... on top of everything else, it's just frustrating to feel like I constantly have to justify every decision. Like Hendrik feels some compulsion to act as Bo's proxy, and I have to run everything by him first."
"That does sound very frustrating," Elise said. "It sounds like he's taking his own frustrations out on you, even though you couldn't control what happened."
"I guess that's part of being a leader," Mel said wearily. "You just get flack for everything and have to take it. Everyone's got an opinion."
"Have you told Hendrik about how you felt?" Elise asked.
"I haven't," Mel said. "And I know I probably should at some point, but it just doesn't feel like it would be wise to do it right now, while we're all still struggling to make it day to day. We have enough sources of tension already. This really isn't that important right now."
"I think your sanity is important," Elise said with a faint smile. "But it's up to you. He might not even be aware of his behavior. Maybe you could be the one to instill change for him."
"I just... I don't know if I want to fight this battle just yet. Maybe once we get to New Haven, I'll try bringing it up before we part ways," she said. "I don't think I have the emotional energy to try just yet."
Elise nodded. "I'm sorry it's been frustrating. It can't be easy, especially with everything else going on. Hopefully he'll start lightening up soon."
"Hopefully," Mel said with a sigh.
There was a pause, and Mel briefly rubbed her face in the silence.
"Anyway," she said wearily. "How have you been holding up?"
"Oh... the usual, I think. It's been stressful, but it always has. I'm hoping we can get to New Haven without any problems," Elise said.
"Me too," Mel said softly. "I know... Elias is always on your mind."
"Is it that obvious?" Elise said sheepishly with an airy, hollow laugh.
"I would be worried if it wasn't," Mel said softly. "Knowing you."
"Yeah..." Elise said with a heavy sigh, leaning forward as she stared at the ground. "I guess this feels... different. Yet, familiar. Because there isn't really much I can do at this point. I'm just... waiting. And hoping. I think that's all any of us can do."
"I understand the feeling," Mel said. "At some point, there's not much you can do except... feel it. And you still have to figure out how to go about life."
Mel leaned forward a little, hugging her knees.
"I keep wishing this week was over so I could let myself feel it all," Mel said. "Because I feel like I already am."
"Is that bad?" Elise asked.
"No, it's not bad," Mel said with a sigh. "Except that I feel like I don't get many moments to process it all because I'm so worried about everything else."
Elise was quiet for a moment as she put herself in Mel's shoes. Bo had always taken on so much, and now that he was no longer here, Mel filled his spot - and with that, his roles and responsibilities.
"I know you already know this, but... you don't have to bear all this yourself," she said. "We can all lean on each other, especially during times of stress."
Mel flashed Elise a small, sad smile.
"I think I just keep worrying about Bo," Mel said quietly, her smile fading. "I don't know how far Elias is going to push him. And I don't know if the mage hunters will be back. If they run into Bo and Elias... it's just the two of them. Bo might feel pushed into a corner again..."
Elise felt her heart sink at the thought as guilt also crept in. Bo was only gone because Elias left. She couldn't help but ask herself what she could have done in the past to help Elias some more. Elise knew she really did try her best, but maybe it wasn't enough.
And if mage hunters really were present, and something happened to not only Elias, but Bo as well...
It was a dark thought, but not one Elise wanted to dwell upon.
"I think what I hate most is how helpless I feel about it all," Mel said. "And I can't help but feel angry. Angry about it all happening in the first place."
Elise nodded. "I feel helpless too. I wished things turned out differently," she said softly.
"I don't want to think about the potential... of having to face the worst," Mel said even quieter. "I feel like I can't even let my mind go there, or I'll lose help altogether. I don't know how Bo did it. He'd always think of the worst case scenario and still fight with everything within him for the best possible outcome."
"Bo also has had decades of experience," Elise said. "Regardless, you're not Bo. You have your own set of strengths and weaknesses. It's not a bad thing that you can't do everything he's able to do. I think that's expected."
"I feel like everyone expects me to be like Bo, though," Mel said. "Like an unspoken assumption."
Elise hesitated. "Everyone... or Hendrik?"
"Hendrik, mostly," she muttered, burying her face in her hands. "And myself."
"Well... you can control one of those options," Elise said with a slight reassuring smile.
Mel huffed through her nose, pulling her hands away to look at Elise with a small grin.
"True," she said. "I think, more than anything, I just... keep missing him. Bo, I mean. We've been working together so consistently for the past few years... we've hardly ever split up, and never with such high stakes as this."
Elise nodded again. "I can see why you'd miss him. Each night that passes without him must feel so foreign to you. But I know you'll be reunited with him again soon."
"I know," she said quietly. "I just..."
But she trailed off, letting out a sigh instead as she shook her head.
"I know it can be hard to believe. And maybe you look up to how Bo thinks through the worst case scenarios... but I'd like to believe that we're headed towards the best case scenario instead," Elise said.
"It's certainly a more hopeful future," Mel said. "I guess... it's good to hope. I want to have hope for both of them. I guess I'll keep trying."
"I'm glad. And I'll try with you, too," Elise said, briefly setting her hand on her shoulder.