He’d been so pleased, the smile pulling at the corners of his full mouth just as Orsino sat up and scrubbed his hands over his face. Everything ached, his mouth tasted like rusty iron, and here was his best friend looming over him and grinning like a lunatic.
“You did it,” he whispered, as not to jar Orsino’s groggy senses. “Your Harrowing. You did it.”
And he’d stopped there, emotion making his words thick and heavy, and pulled the yawning elf into a sudden embrace. Orsino coughed and flapped his arms, feebly trying to get away.
“Laurence! Ow! My… everything. Ow.”
But even as Laurence released him and looked him over with concern written all over his features, a smile was creeping into Orsino’s. He had passed. That was what this post-Harrowing ache meant — that he was alive, and well, and a mage of the Circle.
And the only person happier and more relieved than him was the shy Rivaini boy whose uncanny way of always knowing when to be there and what to say had seen Orsino through these last few years.
Had Orsino been capable of seeing the dark edge to Laurence’s happiness for him? The fear that crept into his waking dreams and suffocated him with quiet steadiness? The way his hands trembled when he lit the candles in the Chantry, knowing in that uncanny way of his that this is all the magic he is fit to do?
If he had been capable of seeing this, would he have been able to dissuade that fear?
They’d seen men and women who had once been boisterous and youthful minding the stockrooms and doing the enchanters’ accounts, an unsettlingly smooth texture to their waxen skin and a vacancy in their eyes that one could fall into if one stared for too long.
“That will never be me,” Laurence whispered, his hands curling into resolute fists, and Orsino always agreed, readily.
That could never be Laurence.
“This is it, Orsino,” he says soon after that day, soon after Orsino has donned his mage’s robes and signet ring and moved out of the apprentice’s quarters. “They come for me. For my Harrowing.”
“You’ll do wonderfully. You’re smart, quick.” Orsino bites the side of his tongue, yearning to tell, yearning to give the secrets of the Harrowing Chamber to his dearest friend, but knowing the walls have ears. “You’ll be fine, I promise you. And when you come back, I’ll convince Maurice to move you into my dormitory.”
Laurence smiles slowly at this, his eyelids drooping to give him a dreamy, sultry look, and Orsino’s heart skips a beat.
“I would like that.”
Their palms touch, fingers enfolding to grasp fingers, and when their lips touch in kind Laurence seems to draw strength from Orsino’s very breath, and when they come to escort him to the top of the tower, he turns his head and gives Orsino an unexpectedly sunny smile, one that leaves the elf dazzled for minutes.
And after this Orsino had gone on with his evening, washing his face and changing into night-robes, rooting around for the books he’d intended to bring to his room from the library and realising he’d left them there. He’d hurried towards the library to retrieve them, but stopped in the middle of the hall, his heart thudding painfully in his chest.
Something... something was wrong.
The Harrowing Chamber is far up, far up, but Orsino feels the disturbance as if it were a mere few feet away. He runs, slippered feet pelting the floor, and when the templars snap to attention and begin to give chase, he darts into the stairwell, and when he bursts from the stairwell straight into the vise-like grips of a pair of templars, he begins to shout.
“Don’t let them hurt him! Maker, please, don’t let them hurt him!
Laurence! Don’t— Stop— Let me go! Laurence!”
By the time Orsino finally stops hallucinating a shy Rivaini boy’s blood on his robes, stops meeting him in the Fade and begging for him to come back, stops shaking every time he passes the lit candles in the Chantry, by the time this is all said and done, his hair is already beginning to grey.