Leareth is lying in a stone room, and nothing in particular is happening right now, and he is mostly succeeding at not having any thoughts. It's a fine moment. He is not, literally this second, being tortured. This is not useful at all for predicting what the next moment is going to be like, of course, or for whether 'quiet stone room' has any particular resemblance to reality, but Leareth has gotten pretty good at not being curious.
"War does change people, yeah, that makes sense."
It's not even just the war, Vanyel thinks - it might not be mostly the war - it's, just, everything that happened in the years of his conversations with Leareth - everything that happened after that one awful night when Yfandes walked away– This is not a helpful memory to be dwelling on right now and he tries to shove it away.
"I think I was pretty defensive, the other day," he says, looking down again. "Because - well, from my end it seemed like we'd just won a war with Melkor, who trust me is a thousand times scarier than anyone I fought on the Karsite side, and - with fewer casualties than just about any single battle in the war with Karse. I think we made some mistakes but overall we did pretty damned well and - I guess it hurt, to feel attacked after trying so hard for so long to do the right thing here. A lot of our interactions with you were - trying to make it as little as possible a gamble, to cordon off how much you could harm our cause if you weren't trustworthy. And - gods, I've been on the other side of that and it doesn't feel good, so I'm sorry. But - it felt like a pretty reasonable decision process to be running, given the information we actually had at the time, when we were at war with Melkor and we thought we had a way to win but it was only going to have a chance of working if it caught him totally unawares, and also he'd managed to capture Leareth of all people and so it felt like it might not be possible to be paranoid enough."
"Yeah, that's about how Maitimo explained it.
Rúmil told me - Melkor uses the good things about people against them, the impulse to be trusting and talk things out and try to understand people. So it's an indicator that you were - set up in a responsible defensive posture, that you didn't do that with me. And realistically it was much more important to be set up in a responsible defensive posture, since you were fighting Melkor.
That having been said if I were actually working for Melkor you'd all have been screwed regardless. I'm a subtle artist with an interplanar earcuff."
Vanyel's shoulders sag a little. "I figured. Though - I mean, we were already screwed in that case, right, from the moment it was obvious you could find and contact us at all, having more conversations with you didn't increase the threat-surface-area much. Or I figured, anyway, possibly Leareth would've caught something I didn't."
He fidgets with the hem of his tunic. "I'm - not used to thinking of 'the impulse to be trusting' as an uncomplicatedly good thing. Though trying to understand people and be charitable to their reasoning when it's different from yours is closer to just-always-good - I think those are pretty different motions. Trusting people and being transparent is good if you're working with trustworthy people who want to cooperate, and bad with adversarial actors, and - I guess a lot of my work has been with some degree of adversaries. Even the Council - they're not value-aligned with Heralds, not really, they care about Valdemar too but they have their own agendas and it'd be stupid to trust them and be open with them the way I am with, say, Savil. - and I can't even trust Savil with everything, I didn't trust her - or any of the Heralds, really - to reason clearly about the Leareth situation. Their Companions still have the issue that made Yfandes walk out on me until she'd fixed it, for one."
He frowns. "I think some of what we were trying to protect against was - you not being as trustworthy or value-aligned as my alt thought. Which, I mean, almost no one is as trustworthy as he was claiming you are. I am updating very hopefully toward him being right, even if his decision to trust you initially seems overly hasty to me, and - well, now is a much better time to actually do the talking things out. Which is - why I'm trying to."
"I appreciate that, it probably wasn't exactly appealing to come here today."
"Not really, no." Vanyel takes a deep breath. "I - gods, I don't know how to say this right, but. I hope we can become friends on our own terms, now that things are less on fire and there's more slack for it, just, I don't think you should be thinking of me as the same person as my alt, and - definitely not expecting me to automatically have 'rapport' with you because he does. It - I'm sorry, just, it kind of made me bristle when you said that."
"Yeah, that's fair. I shouldn't have expected it. I think if someone was me I'd want a lot of things to - not need to be duplicated, if we could just assume we were similar enough in the right ways - but I shouldn't have expected that to apply to anyone else."
Nod. “It’d be different if I felt - less like a completely different person now, I guess. Even if you’d met me at twenty-four and not eighteen. And Leareth might see it the same way you do, if not for the thing where one of the alts is extremely traumatized.”
"Might not be prohibitive, he could be relying on his alt's pre-Angband assessment of, say, Maitimo, I wouldn't know."
"You know, that's a good point, I think he might be. Not entirely, but - he seems to trust Maitimo way more than he would normally ever trust someone he just met - and, er, whose mind he can't read."
Vanyel rubs his chin. “I - hmm. It’s not that I don’t get why you’re annoyed with him for decisions the other day. He does tend toward just doing things unilaterally and it's frustrating. But - I think that's a really deeply engrained thing for him, not trusting anyone or relying on anyone, and it makes sense to me given his life experience. Honestly, going by what my alt said he's putting way more effort and inconvenience into cooperating with you than he did after a decade of talking to me." (Vanyel is, perhaps, a tiny bit hurt about this, but he's trying to shove that aside because it's stupid.) "Just - I think maybe he can't trust people the way you wish people would trust you, I think it might not be a mental motion he knows how to do. And..."
He looks down. Why does he even care about this so much? "I guess I feel a bit protective of him, for some reason, it's not like he needs it and I bet he's not upset and thinks it's very reasonable of you to be miffed with him and might well think he made a mistake, but...I don't know, I don't want people going around being disappointed in him for being Leareth-shaped, I guess."
"It partly caught me off guard because Leareth made a similar mistake with me a while back and seemed to understand that it had been a mistake when I told him at the time. I'm - not sure if the contents are relevantly confidential from you or I'd explain."
Nod. "That makes sense. He's probably annoyed with himself about that, but honestly I tend to make the same mistake at least a dozen times before learning better from it sticks. I...guess I just want to point out that trusting you is probably something he has to work really hard for."
"Yeah, that makes sense."
"My Leareth is actually the one who said something about that to me! Which is really interesting. He's having way less trouble than I would've expected with - well, the fact that he hates having to rely on other people and also is completely reliant on other people for everything right now. I hope that means there's something about Arda that was good for him on that axis, before Angband happened, and it'll be good for your Leareth too once he's been here more. Or maybe it's Maitimo in particular. He seems to get Leareth weirdly well."
"I, also, found Arda really good for me up until something awful happened and managed to retain some of the accumulated advantage."
"Yfandes thinks it's good for me too. It–" He would absolutely not have felt comfortable saying something this personal to Bella ten minutes ago, so it's probably a good sign that he does, the clearing-the-air conversation helped. "It makes me feel - less fragile? Like I'm normal, not - someone who needs a lot of accommodations to function. Maitimo thinks I'm really low-maintenance, which is objectively hilarious, but it's also not wrong compared to Quendi. I told him about the conditions I had to work under during the Karsite war and he said it would just straight-up kill them."
"- were you a prisoner of war, or -"
"- no? Thankfully, I was nearly captured a few times due to being stupid. It - wasn't that bad, really, by human standards. I was just on the Border for years, and everything was ugly and my feet were always damp and my clothes were always gross and the food was awful. And most of the time I was alone and constantly on the move, because if the Karsites managed to ferret out which camp I was in they'd attack it. Understandably, it sometimes felt like I was half of Valdemar's total firepower just by myself." Shrug. "It was really bad for me. I was so miserable - and I hadn't been miserable before the war started, I was doing fine in 797 before Lancir died. But I think Savil at age thirty would've coped no problem."
"I don't know about no problem, that does sound really miserable."
"She would've coped better at least. Gods, I used to imagine sometimes, what if the war with Karse had started when I was seventeen. I wouldn't have been able to cope at all and I'm not sure they would've had a choice but to send me anyway. I'm really glad that isn't what happened."
"...Sorry, that was a digression. Anyway: Arda is really nice. I was trying to explain to Maitimo that the last six months, all of which we spent at war with Melkor, were less stressful than the average of my life for the last five years and he was so baffled. But - Quendi are really good." He makes a face. "I think in a way that made them more exploitable to Melkor, in Valinor? No one even considered the hypothesis it was him until Leareth turned up and pointed it out within five minutes. But - we won, and I really hope that means Arda gets to stay nice, now, and - keep being a place where people just trust each other by default. Even if I'm probably never going to learn how to do that."
"Well, the orcs complicate things. But - Elf cities full of Elves can be like that, I hope."
"I hope so too. Anyway, thank you for being willing to talk."
"You're welcome. Thanks for coming."