The night that she dreams of Jowan being made Tranquil is also the night that Tavia Amell sneaks into his room.
It's as silent as the grave while the tower sleeps. Moonlight spills across the floor in sharp, slanting angles, cast down like fallen angels into the darkness. She moves stealthily from shadow to shadow, a flash of white hair and pale skin against the black. Her heart is pounding against her chest, erratic with panic. She can't seem to catch her breath, though she's conditioned for much more than a midnight run. Dread is the young woman's driving force. It dares her to stop, to go back to her room. Fear whispers that she's too late to save her friend.
He's gone, it hisses into her hysteric mind. You've failed him.
This doesn't stop her. The Templars can't stop her either. She can hear the metallic clanking of their armor as they patrol the halls. It's a simple matter of avoiding them for the mage who's had their routes and patterns of behaviour memorised since she was nine. Predictable, she thinks. But instead of the usual disdain, only dismay accompanies the fact now. If they believe a mage is dangerous or incapable of passing the Harrowing, they will do what they have always done. Kill them or make them Tranquil. Right or wrong, that's just the way it is.
In her haste, she almost alerts one of the Templars to her presence. They pause in the hallway, and she tenses. Adrenaline is coursing through her veins and her fingers twitch with energy. They grow warmer and warmer as her body quickly moves past the flight instinct and prepares to fight in the only way it knows how. Magic.
When the Templar – the one named Cullen – continues on, she releases the breath that she hadn't realised she was holding.
A smart apprentice would have gone back to bed and abandoned such foolishness. The consequences for breaking curfew were severe more often than not. Mages are supposed to show subservience, obedience to every rule. No matter how pointless or idiotic it is. Anyone with half a mind of their own knew that the curfew rule was just to test compliance, if not to allow the Templars an easier way to monitor them all. But for Tavia, it doesn't matter that if she's caught she'll have to explain what she's doing up and about this late, unattended. She doesn't intend on getting caught.
Right now, all that matters to Tavia is reaching Jowan. She has to see him. She has to make sure he's all right. She has to see him. She has to.
It seems to take an eternity to reach his room, which is only just across the level, and when she finally does a relief that she has never known fills her. Her eyes have adjusted to the dark and she can see him, buried underneath covers. His dark-haired head peeks out from just beneath the sheets, facing the wall and away from her. The rhythmic rise and fall of his chest is a welcome sight. Jowan is asleep, content and seeming at peace.
As she approaches his bedside, Tavia suffers a moment of doubt, unsure whether she should wake him. She suddenly feels very, very stupid for having come at all. It was just a dream, after all. It wasn't real. But Tranquils have to sleep too, and she knows she's going to wake him. Just to make sure.
With a touch less gentle than it ought to have been, she grabs his shoulder and shakes him awake.
He sits up slowly, rubbing sleep from his eyes. The voice that comes to her from the darkness is confused, and most definitely not the monotone of a Tranquil.
She doesn't think her name has ever sounded as beautiful as it does when he says it in that moment.
"Oh, Jowan," she says and the words are breathy, rushed.
"Is everything all right?" The confusion has turned to concern.
Tavia is suddenly overcome by emotion, so much more than she's used to. The relief from before is so pointed now, it pierces straight through every defence she has. Like a dam giving way, everything that she has been holding back no longer is. Her eyes are stinging then, hot with tears. Her chest, too, feels tighter than a bowstring. It doesn't matter that people have accused her of being unfeeling, as ice cold as her snow-white features. Obviously her body disagrees with that assertion, apparent through its physical response.
She knows he's expecting a reply as he stares at her with his soft, brown eyes. She wants to say something, make up some sort of excuse, but her throat has become clogged by stupid, useless feelings. They never did anyone any good, she thinks, least of all her. Least of all now.
Despite her best efforts, her shoulders shudder beneath the weight of her visceral emotions. It gives her away, even in the dark.
"Hey, Tavia," Jowan says, starting in alarm. "Come on, don't do that. Please don't . . . don't cry. Talk to me."
He reaches out to her instinctively, but then withdraws his hand. This isn't how it usually is between them. And that gives him pause. It's obvious he's unsure what to do. Tavia's not even sure what she wants him to do.
Jowan can be slow and dense a lot of the time, but every now and then he gets it right. Tonight he seems to know just how to be the right friend, the one Tavia needs. Within moments, he's overcome whatever apprehension he has. He pushes back the covers of his bed and scoots over. She climbs in without thinking. It's warm from his body heat in stark contrast to the cold draft of the tower. Tavia gravitates toward him, and he doesn't push her away. Instead, he pulls the coverlet up and over them.
"Will you tell me what's going on now?" he asks, keeping his voice down. Only a wall of bookcases separates his room from some of the other apprentices'. Privacy will only be an option as long as they keep quiet.
"I shouldn't have woken you," is the only thing she can think to say.
What other answer can she give? The rest make her sound like an idiot. Tavia's had her fair share of nightmares, yet she's never taken any of them so seriously. None have ever struck such horror into her heart.
He's holding her close now, actually holding her in his arms. She has to remind herself that he's a friend. Best friend, yes, but still just a friend. He thinks of her as a sister, or so he's said. So while the moment is intimate, it isn't romantic. All Jowan is doing is trying to comfort her, and she knows this. It's something she can appreciate, even if she wishes there were more motives behind his compassion. Because the truth is that she cares for him as more than a friend, so much more, and that is why the idea of him being made Tranquil terrifies her so much. She wouldn't only be losing her closest friend, but the man that she lov . . .
But she can't tell him any of this, she can barely admit it to herself, and so she says nothing.
"Am I going to have to read your mind, Tavia? You know I'm not good at that," he says in an effort to lighten the gloom that's settled over his friend.
"Just try it," she dares with a smile that can be seen even in the dark.
By now, she's managed to fight off those unwanted tears. Being with him here, like this, has calmed her. She knows it doesn't mean as much to him as it does to her, but that's not important right now. She can pretend, at least for a little while.
"So . . . you're really not going to tell me, are you?"
"No," she says. "Believe me, Jowan. You'd rather not know."
"You know saying that only makes me want to know more, right?" She can hear the change in his voice that always preempts some sort of pleading. Tavia's learned to recognise all of Jowan's verbal and non-verbal cues over the years. As well as he knows her, she knows him better. "Come on, tell me! I promise, I won't judge you. Whatever it is, you can trust me."
"It's not a matter of trust, Jowan . . ." It is then that she notices his bandaged hand. "When did this happen?" He grows quiet, uncharacteristically so, but she thinks he just didn't hear her. She repeats her question.
"The other day," he tells her. "Just an accident. I cut myself on a box while I was helping Owain in the stock room."
And she believes him, taking him for his word without reservation. It doesn't cross her mind that he might be lying to her. She doesn't think that maybe he's dabbling in forbidden blood magic. Tavia sees only what she's ever seen, her friend Jowan. The boy she grew up with, the best friend she's ever had, the man who possesses her heart. He's not the most perfect mage, but then neither is she. No mage is, being the screwed up children of the Maker as they are – so the Templars tell them over and over. As far as she's concerned, though, their flaws are what make them who they are. For better or for worse.
"You're so careless sometimes." She takes his injured hand into her own, touching it with care. It's not often that Tavia shows any sort of empathy towards others, but when she does Jowan is always the recipient. "You should have someone take a look at this. I'm sure Wynne or one of the other healers could do it."
He pulls his hand back, as though protecting it. "No," he says. "That won't be necessary. It's just a scratch really. Nothing serious. I wouldn't want to waste their time."
She looks up at him to tell him that he should take care of himself or to hold himself in higher regard (like she does) but the words lodge in her throat. His face is so close. He's looking down at her with an expression that she's never seen him wear before. It's different, but not in a bad way. She can see it in his eyes, the realisation of how close they are. Their locked gazes mirror each other, a myriad of mixed emotions and an accumulation of thought. A warm feeling settles in the pit of her stomach, not unpleasant but burning all the same. For a moment, she thinks maybe. Maybe he feels the same. Maybe he's always felt the same. Maybe he wants her like she wants him. Maybe this is it.
It would be easy, she thinks, so easy to lean forward and press her lips to his . . .
Instead, she tucks her head down beneath his chin. Tavia hates herself in that moment, but what else can she do? Jowan's her friend, not her lover. She can't risk losing their friendship. She won't.
"Are you okay now?" Jowan whispers.
"Yes," she lies. "Thanks, Jowan."
"You know I'm always here for you. That's what friends are for." She hates his choice of words, the saying that mocks her. But she doesn't tell him that. She only nods and huddles closer to her friend. Just her friend.
She means to leave, but she never brings herself to. He doesn't ask her to go, and so she stays. They fall asleep, but she does not dream. Morning comes swiftly, and she wakes before he does. As the sun rises, she slips from his bed and sneaks back to her own room. No one is the wiser.
A week later, Jowan meets a girl and Tavia knows that she's missed her last chance.