Iza Amell: life inside the Tower, and life out of it. Part of the Hope/Obsession saga. F!Amell/Jowan, Amell/Alistair, future Amell/Cullen.
A/N: Many many thanks to Jade, for being an awesome beta and an epic friend, and for Cris, who is great at encouraging and being inspirational. :D Thank you ladies.
Chapter One: Jowan
When Iza Amell is four, she thinks her grandmother's long silver hair is the most beautiful thing in the world.
Her mother is a whore after all, and it's her grandmother that takes care of her. In a thick accent, her grandmother whispers into her hair. In the Free Marches, all the women are beautiful, she says, braiding Iza's own mouse-brown locks. It's the hair. All Marchesian women have beautiful hair.
And the men?
Well, they are beautiful, too. Grandmother chuckles. She stops the braiding, flicking bugs and dirt off of Iza's shoulder. If your mitera knew how to keep her legs shut, maybe we could be in the Free Marches instead of Redcliffe.
Iza, at four, doesn't understand what she's talking about.
But then Grandmother laughs, and kisses Iza's forehead. Then again, if she did, we wouldn't have you, would we, my little angel?
And all this talk is making her sleepy, so Grandmother kisses her again and carries her to bed. When you are as old and wise as I am, your hair will be silver, too.
As Iza sleeps, she dreams of having silver hair like her grandmother, and hopes to be just as wise.
When she wakes up, her hair is silver. It's the first time she's ever done any sort of magic, and she's changed her hair color.
Her mother is terrified.
The next day involves a lot of praying, rubbing Iza's head until it's red and raw, hoping to scrub the magic away. When Mother cannot wash the silver out, she cuts Iza's hair boy-short and covers it with a tied-up rag. Don't take it off, Mother warns. Not ever.
Iza doesn't understand, because she thinks her silver hair is beautiful, like Grandmother's. But even Grandmother isn't happy, making signs across her chest and breathing heavy and chanting in a language Iza doesn't understand.
Grandmother is no longer as kind and Mother is afraid and the people in the town stare at her hair-rag, curious.
Iza wonders what she has done wrong.
Grandmother dies shortly after Iza turns five. In her grief, Iza freezes half of Lake Calenhad, quite the feat for the middle of summer. The Knights come for her shortly after that.
Mother gets down on her knees and begs. Don't take my Iza. She is all I have, you can't take her. You can't.
But the knights are unsympathetic. Begone, wench. Go back to your whorehouse where you belong.
Iza cries, but the men are a lot bigger than her and carry her with ease, even though she is kicking and screaming and crying as hard as she can. It takes three priests to stop her mother from running after her and even then, she struggles. Let me go. Let me go to my Iza. You can't take her from me!
Iza cries long after they've left the village, and doesn't stop until she finally passes out, exhaustion taking her.
The knights are not all bad.
"Eat," one of them tells her, a kind one named Greagoir. "You won't make it to the Tower unless you eat."
"I want my mommy," she sobs, because she just doesn't understand why she's here or what she's done wrong.
"If the Maker wills it, you'll see her again." He lies to her gently, and hands her an orange. "I'm sure your mother would be unhappy with you if you didn't eat."
She thinks about what he has said, and takes the orange. He's probably right. Besides, the orange is tasty and she hasn't exactly eaten in a while, so she practically engulfs the fruit, causing the Templars to smile.
She isn't afraid anymore.
When Iza Amell is five, she is taken to the Tower. And in the Tower, she meets Jowan.
He is older than her—though not by much—but still fairly small, even if he is bigger than she is. He thinks her silver hair is wicked and she smiles because she thinks so too, even if no one else does. He tells her about magic and which Templars to avoid and which mage-teachers are the meanest. Pretty soon, they become friends.
Pretty soon, they become best friends, inseparable and constantly into mischief, which is wicked.
Soon, she forgets about life outside the Tower. Here at least she gets three square meals a day and her hair is always clean, which is more than she would have gotten back home. And Jowan cares for her and protects her and holds her when she's sad, which is nice.
Soon, the Tower stops being a Tower and becomes her home, and she wonders why anyone would ever want to leave it.
Jowan is always protecting her.
From bullies, from Templars, from the mean girls in her dorm who make fun of her silver hair.
(Unnatural, they whisper, as if not everything about mages is unnatural.)
Which is nice, because Iza sometimes feels as though she's the one who is supposed to save everyone, and the whole world weighing down on her shoulders, which is an absurd feeling for a girl her age, but one she can't shake.
Still, Jowan is there to make sure she smiles in the mornings, to make sure she skips Enthropy at least occasionally, to make sure the girls (it's always girls who are the meanest, and mage-girls are no exceptions) in her dorm don't make cry.
She likes to pretend that they'll get married when they're older. She knows that mages never leave the Tower, but that's okay—she rather likes it here. She thinks they'll get married and have babies and their Tower, their home, will be like a castle, and they'll be happy here forever.
Jowan is the one constant in her life—she can't imagine spending the rest of her life with anyone else.
Nor, she thinks, would she want to.
At almost-thirteen, Iza kisses Jowan.
It's a dare from the other girls in the Tower, ones who have magicked their hair pink and purple and green. It's a rather tame dare, all things considered (Sarahiah had to kiss a Templar), so Iza hunts him down, grabs his robes, pulls him down and kisses him.
She wonders if it's as magical for him as it is for her.
It must not be, because he pushes her away and stares at her like she's gone insane. "What are you doing?" he squeaks at her, still very much a boy who thinks cooties are contagious. His face is delightfully pink, however, and he doesn't look at her in complete disgust, so maybe she's not a bad kisser after all.
"It was just a dare," she tells him, and wipes her face in mock-disgust, wishing it was any color than hellish pink "Just a dare."
"Oh," he says, and they move on and pretend it never happened.
Sometimes though, when it's late at night and the other girls, all older than her, are still giggling about boys and Templars and kisses, she'll think about Jowan and the kiss and his lips until her face becomes red and she's uncomfortable to be in a crowded dormitory.
She wonders if Jowan ever thinks about the kiss, but never gets the courage to ask.
She is training to be a healer.
There are many reasons for this. One is that Iza has been a practical woman since birth, and healing is a rather practical field of study, at least in the magical realm she calls home. Second is that Jowan is always getting hurt, either getting scrapped or cut or bruised, so Iza thinks that she'd like to heal him, if she can. It would save them trips to the healing wing if anything.
What she doesn't expect is to be good at it.
Some mages are better at different things, she knows, but Iza's ability to heal is astoundingly impressive for a girl her age. In fact, her tutors are so impressed that they call the First Enchanter, and he becomes impressed. You are quite talented, Miss Amell, he tells her, eyes twinkling, and his old smile reminds her of someone that she can't quite place.
He sends her to the healing wing so that she can learn even more, determined to make a Spirit Healer out of her yet. And while the healing wing is a mostly boring place, occasionally interesting people show up.
He's a Templar, but Iza doesn't recognize him, especially with Greagoir there, glaring over his shoulder like a protective dog. He can't be a Templar just yet though, because he isn't looking at the mages in complete and utter disgust like most Templars do.
And his body is different. It's hard, well-sculpt and muscled, and sort of beautiful. She's seen men shirtless before, but male mages aren't quite built like Templars, not at all. She understands now why the girls in her dorm giggle about Templars—if they all look like this under their armor, then she's been missing out and—
He catches her staring at him and blushes, his face turning red like his pretty little curls. "Thank you," he tells her as she moves her hands off of his chest. "What's your name?" he asks, and she's surprised by how gentle he sounds, how young he looks in the face. He can't be much older than her, even.
"Iza," she says to him, her face pink in response. "Iza Amell."
And she resists the urge to play with the curls in his hair, forcing herself to ask him for his name instead.
"It's Cul—" but he doesn't get a chance to finish.
"IZZY!" Jowan calls, bounding into the healing wing face-first. "Izzy, I've done it again!"
She rolls her eyes and gives the Templar one last look before chasing after her friend.
"Jowan, what is it now?" she cries. "And be quiet, people are trying to sleep here!"
But Jowan just snorts at her, unimpressed. "I saw you ogling that Templar so I thought I'd come save you. Or him, really. You looked like you might start molesting him if I left the two of you alone."
Her face flushes. "I—I wasn't ogling him! I was healing him! And Greagoir was right there, you dumbass."
But he shrugs like he doesn't believe her. "All I know is you don't look at me like that when you're healing me, Izzy."
And he sounds just a bit jealous, so her heart soars against her will.
"Templars are bad news, anyway. Or did you forget that they are basically trained to kill us?" Jowan continues, escorting her out of the hospital wing. "If you are that desperate to get laid, you should go after a fellow mage, at least."
She rolls her eyes at him. "You are so immature."
"Aw, but you know you love me, Izzy." He laughs and dashes off.
The sad thing is he's right. About a great many things.
Not that she'll ever tell him that, of course, but still.
Mages aren't like normal people.
Mages don't believe in love, in happily-ever-after. They don't marry and they don't raise families. In rare cases, some mages will declare they love one another and share a bedroom, but that doesn't happen often. Instead, mages believe in pleasure, in lust, in giving into carnal urges and then moving on with their lives. Virginity isn't anything sacred or needed in the Tower, seeing as mages never marry.
At seventeen, Iza is one of the last virgins in the girls' dorm.
At eighteen, Jowan is the last virgin in the boys' dorm.
It's something Mical Surana has been making fun of him for. "Oh, come on, Jowan, everyone's done it. Just find a girl and roll with her. Hell, even Izzy would probably do it with you."
In fact, Izzy would like nothing more than to "do it" with Jowan, but he doesn't ask her.
Not until later, at least, once desperation sinks in.
She is wondering what this is about when he drags her to an abandoned classroom in the middle of the night, but she follows because it's Jowan and the two of them are always getting into trouble, so this is nothing new.
"Izzy, y-you know you're my best friend, right?" he asks her, and she tries to ignore the fact that he's still holding her hand.
She nods. "Jowan, what's going on?"
"I want to spend the night," he confesses. "With a girl. And, well, you're a girl."
Really? She was a girl to him?
She hits him lightly over the head. "You are an idiot. Are you asking me to sleep with you?"
"Yes," he tells her, his face red. "As friends." He stops and looks at her. "You are very pretty, Iza."
This isn't how she wanted this to happen. There should be candlelight and roses and declarations of love under the stars, not a foolish boy who is tired of being the only virgin in the dorm and a naïve girl who wants something more than friendship. But mages don't really believe in love, not really, so this is as close to it as it gets.
It's awkward and painful and she bleeds, but Jowan holds her afterwards almost-tenderly, protecting her from the cold and the pain he inflicted. After that night, they go on with their lives like normal, and Iza tries not to let it show how heartbroken she really is inside.
Jowan is seeing another.
Her name is Lily, and she's not a Mage, because the Tower is a very small world and Iza knows practically every girl in the dorm and not a single one of them is named Lily.
"Don't worry about it," Jowan tells her, scowling. "It's none of your business, anyway."
But Jowan is her best friend, and they've told each other everything. For him to keep something from her is not like him.
She knew things would change after they slept together, but she wasn't expecting this. She wasn't expecting this distance, the secrecy, the suspicion that mars their every conversation.
(She would give up the night they had together if it just meant she could just have her friend back.)
"How did you hurt your hands?" she asks him, healing the long jagged lines across him palms.
"I fell." He lies, and she knows he's lying, but she loves him and so she doesn't question him further.
He winces just as the last of the healing energy is absorbed into the wound, fixing every inch of cracked skin and scar. "Thank you, Izzy." He smiles, admiring her handiwork. "Good as new."
(But it's not, because he's keeping secrets from her, and she can't trust him, and there is this gap, large and silent, that has come in between them, and no matter how much energy she puts into it, the gap hasn't healed and she can't fix this, which is wrong because she is Iza Amell and she can fix anything.
Iza moves on.
It's not exactly easy.
But when another mage—a girl—asks her shyly if, perhaps, she wouldn't mind spending a bit of time together, Iza accepts. Her name is Belle, and she has gorgeous hair (curls! Iza has a thing for curly hair) and the prettiest green eyes. She knows what she's doing, too, and the two women enjoy themselves, naked and playing in the public (but empty) bath.
This is what sex should be, Iza thinks. It should be fun, relaxing, non-committal, with no strings attached, no feelings to break.
So she takes on different lovers, some male (a blonde boy with a ponytail who gives the best head she's ever had; one of her teachers, which should be wrong but is actually quite nice, because he has experience), some female (Belle, of course, but Sarahiah too, during the times Iza manages to pry the elf-girl away from the Templar-boy she likes to flirt with in front of Greagoir, just to see him blush).
With every person she kisses, she feels like she loves Jowan a little less. Oh, she will always love him, she knows, but she feels less…dependent, she supposes. Or maybe less lonely.
(Maybe she was always lonely: maybe that's her problem. Maybe she's just a little girl who is tired of needing other people to protect her, who is tired of going to bed alone in her tiny little dorm bed.)
There is one boy in the Tower who Iza maybe sort of almost likes.
But he's a Templar, and Templars are Bad News, even if he is sweet when he stutters good morning to her, and his curly hair is the cutest thing she's ever seen in the Tower.
She talks to him, even though she's not really supposed to. She can't help herself. Boys like him are hard to find in the Tower, boys who are innocent and still sweet and not yet jaded by the world; boys who are gentlemen, who look at her like she's something worth worshiping instead of just another piece of meat.
She is quite sure that he likes her, even if she has no idea why. Still, it's nice to be on the receiving end of a crush instead of being the one who always crushes, even if it's not one she can ever reciprocate.
(She isn't Sarahiah, after all, who likes the thrill of a forbidden affair, of breaking the hearts of the men who have subjected her her entire life. Ultimately, Iza Amell is a Good Girl and has never hoped to be anything else.)
"Y-you s-should go to bed e-early t-tonight, I-iza," Cullen stutters at her while she's in the library, her head buried in between a book.
She looks up at him strangely. "What do you mean?"
He blushes, as if having her look directly at him sends a rush straight to his heart. "I c-can't s-say. J-just t-think a-about it."
So she shuts her book, because she's curious. Because she has no idea what he's talking about. Because she gets the feeling that Cullen wouldn't intentionally harm her, not really.
Three hours after she goes to bed, Knight Commander Greagoir wakes her for her Harrowing.
The first she meets the infamous Lily goes a little something like this:
"That fat cow is your lover?" she says, because she's only had about three hours of sleep and therefore isn't thinking that much, exhausted from her Harrowing and wishing Jowan would have picked a better time to introduce them. Because if Jowan is seeing someone else, she should at least be pretty, even if Iza can see the appeal behind the initiate's pretty doe eyes and innocence.
"She's standing right here!" Jowan exclaims, frustrated and appalled. "Sorry, Lily. Iza's not normally like this. I don't know what's gotten into her."
And she feels bad, so she frowns. "He's right. I'm sorry, Lily." And because she cannot help herself, "So you are Jowan's lover, then? My condolences."
"Hey!" Jowan squeals, but Lily smiles for the first since they've met, so Iza allows herself to think that maybe this won't end too badly.
After that, she hears a story about how they met, about the Chant
(which is strange, because Jowan has never been religious and normally avoids the Chantry: what was he doing there in the first place?)
about love and secret meetings and rumors of blood magic, and then, finally:
"They're going to make me Tranquil, Izzy." Jowan tells her, soft and serious.
Her heart stops. "Are you sure?"
"Very sure," Lily blurts in. "I saw the paper on Greagoir's desk. He's already signed it."
This cannot be happening. Not this. Anything but this. "You need to talk to someone. Go tell Irving the truth. This must be some sort of mistake-they can't just make you Tranquil based on some sort of silly rumor!"
"Irving signed the form, too," Jowan confesses, and Iza feels betrayed, because Irving is her mentor, her teacher and advisor, someone she respects, and he should know better than to take away her best friend and expect her to be okay with it.
Jowan takes her hand into his. "Will you help us, Izzy? You're the only one that I can trust with this."
"Of course," she says, batting away a few tears that have leaked out. Because there was never any other possible answer. Not really.
She does pull him off to the side though, and asks him something that's been bothering her.
"Those rumors about you being a blood mage aren't true, are they?"
(Because she's healed the scars on his hands. Because Jowan has suddenly gotten better at magic without explanation. Because she doesn't want to believe he's that stupid, and yet.)
"What? No! Of course not! I hate blood magic." (he's lying and she knows he's lying; goddamnit, Jowan) "I've been sneaking around to meet with Lily. Someone must have seen me and thought I was up to something else. I wasn't, I swear!" He pauses and looks down at her, slightly scared. "You believe me, don't you?"
No. "Of course I do."
And then, because she cannot help herself: "Jowan, what about us? Why didn't we ever-?"
"I've always thought of you like a little sister. I've never—" He pales, his eyes going wide with a sudden realization. "Wait. You don't—feel something for me, do you?"
And she wants to tell him the truth. Wants to tell him that, for a time, he was her everything. That she carried a torch for him throughout adolescence and would have given anything for his attention, but he never noticed.
But she doesn't, because Jowan is in love with another and she wouldn't ruin his happiness for the world. And she is an adult, a girl grown and moved on in the world.
So she doesn't tell him.
"Ha! You should have seen your face—priceless!"
And he scorns and Lily giggles and all is right in her little world.
Now, to find a Rod of Fire.
In seventy-two hours, her life turns upside-down: Jowan is a blood mage, Lily is in prison, and Iza finds herself amongst the last of the Grey Wardens, fighting for a world that hates her alongside a man who is still very much a boy and who trained to kill those like her.
The Maker hates her, she thinks. It will not be the last time she thinks as such.
Jowan is her first, well, everything. Her first friend. Her first kiss. The first man she shares a bed with. But that shouldn't make him her everything.
Still, life without Jowan is hard to imagine. It's been hard enough here outside the Tower, being without him. For the past fifteen years, Jowan has been at her side for everything, her constant companion, her fellow mischief-maker, her sparring partner, her best friend. In all the years they've known each other, Jowan has kept only one secret from her.
And Iza doesn't think his blood magic is worth losing him.
Which is why she finds herself banging on Bann Teagan's door at three o'clock in the morning, sobbing uncontrollably. The Arl is healing, sleeping in his room and tomorrow, tomorrow they will decide Jowan's fate and it won't be pretty. The poor Bann is tired and confused and pats her awkwardly on her shoulder as she explains to him what it means to be a mage, to be alone in a Tower with no one to care about you, and the only one who does care about you is about to be killed or worse and Maker, she can't give up on him. She tries to explain that Jowan is a good person, he really is, and she knows he poisoned the Arl but it's not his fault, blame Loghain, but don't kill Jowan, don't kill her best friend, the man she sort of still loves, please.
Bann Teagan holds her until her sobs have been reduced to sniffles, and slips her a key. If anyone asks, he broke out himself, he tells her tiredly, as if he understands what it means to love something that doesn't love you back.
Iza hugs him, and runs.
It's nearly dawn when she finally unlocks his cage. He is awake instantly at the noise, staring at her like she's some sort of angel or maybe a demon, coming here to grant his last request.
Run Jowan, she tells him, her eyes blood red as she still cries, run as far as you can, and don't ever look back.
He gives her one last look—one that says I should have loved you more or I regret not kissing you—but before she can decide what it means he's gone, and she knows she will never see him again.
She goes to sleep with a smile on her face, even if there isn't one in her heart.
A/N: There is three (four?) chapters of this fic planned and in the works. Hopefully they'll get done faster than this one did. 0_o Each chapter will focus on a different relationship, so the next one will be primarily Amell/Alistair.