Jowan is six the first time they meet, still holding her arm in ghost-pain at the cut of the knife Greagoir uses to take mage-blood for phylacteries. She's shepherded into the chantry-room and they bump shoulders on a bench below the statue of Andraste.
Jowan's been sick for a year of being the littlest apprentice, picked on and ignored and teased—and in that one moment suddenly he's not the littlest anymore and it's great.
But she looks scared and lonely, and it reminds him of someone that he used to be supposed to look after. (Was she a little sister? or just a friend? Jowan can't exactly remember, everything from before is all faded.)
"Hi," he offers in a whisper. "Who're you?"
But the Sister immediately scolds him for talking, and the little girl doesn't answer—just sort of shrinks like if she's really still the templars will forget she's here.
Jowan already knows it won't work.
But after a minute the Sister goes back to talking (sin to Heaven, doom to all the world) and no one notices when he sneaks out a hand to the bench beside him and takes her hand, and she only hesitates a second before she curls her fingers around his and holds on for dear life.
Therrin is annoying.
At least he thinks so when he's nine, and they're still best friends but she's learned the knack of sitting still in classes and raising her hand when she's supposed to and the enchanters look at him askance and harrumph things like you could learn a thing or two from her and for pity's sake, Jowan, stop staring out the windows and pay attention.
He likes staring out the windows.
On very, very clear days, he thinks he can see Denerim.
He can barely remember what sunshine feels like, anymore.
He's fourteen when he finds the mouse.
And it—it's weird that he can barely remember what to call it at first, because it's the first one he's ever seen in the Tower and his only memories of mice are from years and years ago, faded colorless and indistinct. He lures it close, and catches it, and puts it in Therrin's drawer as a joke.
She adores it.
And girls are weird, he knows this, but she cuddles it and calls it Mouse and carries it around in her pocket for weeks, slipping it bits of food. But it happens that she gets called before Irving unexpectedly and she barely has time to slip Mouse into his hands before she's pulled away, and the stupid creature wiggles and squirms and he can't keep hold of it and then he's running like an idiot, crouched over trying to catch the damn thing because she'll be upset if he loses it…
And a templar catches him running after it and with one quick push of a sword, the mouse is dead.
"I'll tell the stockroom there's vermin in the Tower," the helmed Templar offers, as though it's a kindness.
Jowan throws the little body into a fireplace, and tells Therrin that the mouse ran off. There's only the faintest squirm of guilt at the lie—because she's disappointed in him but not half as hurt as she would have been at the truth.
The next summer everything seems to change at the Tower, or maybe it's him—but the girl apprentices suddenly seem beautiful and fascinating and he starts having really awkward dreams about one of his teachers that he doesn't tell anyone but Therrin about. She makes a face and splits her lunch with him, sitting on top of a bookshelf as they dangle their legs off the side, and any second now some templar will tell them to get down, or the archivist will run them off for having food in the library, but for the moment it's… it's nice.
Therrin's thankfully exempt from the whole girl thing. He doesn't know what he'd do if she wasn't.
They have a knack for primal magic. They work well in tandem, chaining spells one after another with the ease of long practice, duels that are more for showing off than really practicing because they already know the spells.
And anyway, it isn't like they'll ever get to really use them. Dueling is as close as they'll ever get.
"It's easier outside the Tower," Therrin offers one day, sprawled on her stomach on his floor, thumbing through a book. "Primal magic. That's what Torrin said—that it's easier to cast primal spells when you're out in the elements, with the ground beneath your feet and all."
Jowan grimaces. "Like we'll ever know." But Therrin goes quiet, because she doesn't like it when he talks like this, and he sighs. "When did Torrin get out of the Tower?"
"I don't know." Therrin glances up. "He seemed sort of sad, talking about it."
Jowan rests his forehead on the window and doesn't say anything else, watching fog roll in over the lake to shroud them all in white.
She glares at him sidelong. "No."
"It'll stop them teasing," Jowan sighs, because sometimes his friends are idiots but he can't keep them from snickering about her behind her back and if he gets in trouble for fighting one more time… "Just get it over with; everyone else has. You can't tell me you're not interested in someone."
She makes a face.
Therrin snorts. "Niall used to pick his nose and wipe snot in my hair. No."
"That was ages ago." And it's not as though the pool of prospects is growing at all—the only people they know, they've known forever, and it never changes, ever, except every now and then when someone dies.
"Why are we talking about this?" she grouses, looking around the table with a scowl. "And where's my quill?"
Jowan laughs to himself and doesn't say anything, because she'll figure it out eventually—but the new Templar, the one who keeps forgetting his helm, he reaches out carefully and pulls it from where she'd stuck it behind her ear. "It's, ah… here."
"Oh," she says, surprised. "Thanks. Um…?"
"Cullen," the Templar manages, flushing. "It's Cullen."
Therrin smiles. "Thanks then, Cullen. Therrin," she says, stretching out a hand to shake—as though a Templar would—but this one just looks mottled for a moment before he takes it, gives it a half-second shake and stammers something about having to go.
Therrin watches him leave.
"No," Jowan demands, alarmed. "Don't even think about it."
"I'm not thinking about anything," she retorts, which isn't much in the way of an argument, but her mouth twitches up at the side and Jowan can't shake the feeling this'll all end in tears.
And then Lily comes to the Tower, and his world tilts sideways.
He shouldn't look, he really shouldn't—but her eyes are the softest shade of brown he's ever seen, her smile like dawn breaking out over the far horizon, and before he knows it she's the first thing he thinks about in the mornings, the last thing that flashes before his eyes at night.
The way she says the Chant makes him yearn to believe.
One evening a group of templars escort the initiates past the table where Jowan and Therrin sit, and together they watch them go, wistful.
And then they accidentally catch each other's eye and it's too honest, too bold—they busy themselves with their books, and they never talk about it.
"Pay attention," Therrin sighs. "We'll have to do this all over if you don't concentrate."
But Lily's in the library and it's hard to concentrate on anything but her—
Therrin smacks his hand lightly with the flat of the herbalism knife, which doesn't hurt but makes him jump. "Hey. Where are you, today?"
Jowan rubs his hand, and doesn't answer. "You're mean."
Therrin snorts, slicing elfroot into precise segments. "Not yet, I'm not."
"You'll have to forgive her nasty temper," Jowan says when Lily glances over and smiles, because he'll seize any excuse at all to talk to her. "She's got a boy's name, you see. It makes her moody."
"Well you've got girl's hands," Therrin retorts, pulling one over and examining the palm—and Lily's still watching, smiling with a rose-petal flush across her cheeks.
"Look, my hands are more banged up than yours. You don't have any scars at all."
And it's true.
For the moment.
Come on, come on, wake up, he thinks over and over, pacing and trying to crush the fear that she won't wake up after her Harrowing.
Cullen keeps walking by in the hall, looking worried, and finally Jowan gets up and closes the door so no templars can intrude.
Finally—finally—she stirs, holding her head. When she opens her eyes, they look haunted.
It sends ice crawling down his throat and even though he knows he shouldn't, he asks about the Harrowing—and even though she's not supposed to talk about it, he settles close by in the dark with an arm around her shoulders and she tells him everything.
After that there's chaos and betrayal and shame and the awful hurt in Lily's eyes etched into his memory forever.
And who would believe him now, that he didn't do it?
Except Therrin—a Warden, and he'd never have thought it—but even she doesn't argue for his release.
Late that night with his head resting on the bars of his cell, the door opens.
For a second she looks just like she did at five, miserable and frightened, and his heart sinks. "You don't have to be here, you know. I'm sure Greagoir will be around shortly."
She shakes her head, tears streaking from her eyes, and shuffles over to sit on the other side of the bars. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be." He's afraid and he's wretchedly cold but mostly he's just tired. "Think of it this way, I'm not going to have to go live at the Tower again."
It's a weak joke, and she doesn't laugh at the implication—that Greagoir will never stand for him to live. After a moment Jowan puts a hand through the bars and winds her fingers in his, and she holds on tightly, running one finger along the myriad webs of scars that mar his skin these days.
They sit in silence for long minutes—and then a door opens nearby, an Orlesian woman's voice (not Isolde, but he still wants to shudder) calls for Therrin.
"Go," he says, giving her a shake. "You shouldn't be seen with me; they'll think the worst."
She slips arms though the bars in an uncomfortable embrace, iron biting cold between them. "Jowan—"
"I'm sorry," he murmurs, and it's the truest thing he's ever said. "Go."
She leaves, and in the quiet hours of the night he sits alone to contemplate the dwindling hours that make up the rest of his life.