They bore Cal through the gates on a stretcher snatched from the last Inquisition camp they'd passed on their way back to the fortress--Skyhold, as he'd heard them say as they spoke over his prone body--and the mountain air cleared his nose and lungs of that foul desert smell. The chill air coiled around him; If he never again felt the merciless heat roll over those endless dunes, it would be too soon.
A healer bent over him as soon as they stepped inside--he knew by the way she smelled, as if Sylaise's hand had reached down from the heavens to bless her--a woman with pale skin and a thick black braid. Riona? No, that name belonged in the past, like a toppled cairn made illegible by winter weather. Regina, that was it. He heard Aer--Amjad say it, Amjad's voice tight with concern as he gave Regina the bare details of what they knew about the abuses Magister Regulus had considered a matter of course. They'd forced Amjad on to the other stretcher, or more accurately the human mage in the fancy robe had made hound dog eyes at him until Amjad had given up and laid down.
Out of the noxious soup that was people's words, and smells, and bustling around, he got the idea that they were going to take him somewhere for treatment. He had little strength but he used what he did have to sit up.
"No! Don't take me away!"
He couldn't stand the idea of being alone with all these shems, not without Amjad or Aislinn to protect him. Aislinn came to his side a moment later, taking his hand.
"It's all right, da'len," she said, "lie back down and I'll come with you."
At first he thought she had Aeron's voice (what other voice would it be?), but with her controlling the body her tone had changed. She spoke to him in a soothing stream of soft Elvish, her statements laden with emotion even when her words were simple. She held herself differently too. When Amjad had controlled the body, he'd often raised his head in defiance, his back as straight and unbreakable as a Keeper's staff, gaze blazing. Aislinn instead glided across the courtyard, her gestures fairy-like, light yet with a strange, otherworldly quality. She was the rabbit to Amjad's wolf, the halla to his hawk.
"What are they going to do to me?"
He gritted, sick with suspicion even though Aislinn had kept her promise, keeping pace with his stretcher as they entered the place of healing. Though it smelled passingly familiar thanks to some of the herbs they were using, nothing else seemed right. To go in to some covered over, cramped shem building instead of lying in a healing circle with the clan dancing around him felt wrong, and he doubted that he would recover here. How could he without the clan spirits to help him? (He hardly thought the crude attention Magister Regulus had given him after bleeding him counted, either). Maybe these people would take what they wanted from him as soon as Amjad and Aislinn weren't looking. He glanced over; Amjad looked in no shape to intervene, curled up on one of the beds, hugging himself tightly.The other healers, people he guessed were under Regina, were trying to get him to relax enough that they could figure out how bad things were. He'd been hurt in the fight, Cal knew that much. Over the several days and nights it had taken to travel back to Skyhold, at least a couple of mages had done little else but heal. He wondered who in all the hells the shem mage primarily responsible was; tall and thin, he had a certain grace to the way he moved, but Cal didn't miss the tightness to his slightly rounded shoulders or the troubled look in his big sea-green eyes. He had a dark beauty to him, pale skin and true-black hair. That very beauty made Cal shy away; magisters were often beautiful. Nor did he miss the way the man stayed practically glued to Amjad's side, wringing his delicate hands, his mussed hair against his wan skin making him look even more tired and anxious than he likely was.
Which is saying something. He's slinking around like a beaten animal.
"Help you," Aislinn said firmly. "This isn't like..." She made a small, guttural noise, as if forcing her statements past a stone lodged against her vocal cords, "we're different from the Magister and his lackeys. I promise you. No one here will harm even a single hair on your head."
He considered that and found he could accept it, for now. Amjad would never let that kind of violation stand, gut wound or no gut wound; he should never have doubted. Still, he couldn't calm down and he was so stiff from fear when they tried to shift him from the stretcher the attendants just grabbed his limbs and set him on the bed like a starfish.
Regina bent over him and he found himself turning to her, praying that she would be kind.
"Hello, Calledan. You're in a bad way, my dear."
Her voice held no guile, but then again Magister Regulus could also make himself seem harmless when it suited him. He thought he could hear angry Tevene in the background, but he dismissed it as little more than a left over torment, visited on him by his already taxed mind. He chose to focus on this agent of Sylaise instead, hoping she would anchor him to what was real. Whatever that was.
"Water?" He asked, just now realizing how dry he was. They brought it to him, and he couldn't detect any drugs in it. He took the risk and drank it. Kaffas, how long had it been since he'd had a full, cool drink of water, water with no sedatives, water with no tricks in it?
The relief the water afforded him also made him aware of how utterly exhausted he was. That and he'd long left mere hunger behind and had entered the realm of starvation, where he no longer felt the simple urge to eat. Instead he felt a kind of dangerous euphoria, the kind that could kill. At a certain point the only thing an abused body could do in response was try to make the process of enduring and perhaps dying a little less awful. He feared he'd crossed that threshold some time ago.
"I'd like to give you some elixirs," Regina said, and he scuttled away from her and balled up near the head of the cot. Not her too!
"No! No potions." He'd spent so much time drugged with Magister Regulus. It was only luck that he wasn't a mage; mages weren't just drugged, but turned in to mindless pets. Aislinn knelt beside the bed, showing her palms as if to reassure him that she wasn't hiding anything from him.
"Please, Cal. You're sick. I'll stay right beside you."
He heard, but he couldn't accept it. He wept through the process, too weary to protest, the taste of the brew at least palatable. That familiar lassitude came in to his limbs and he uncurled some, his head too heavy to hold up. Aislinn crawled in to the cot with him, and huddled against her he found enough peace that he could drift off to something resembling sleep.
When he woke, he found Amjad at his bedside. Aislinn had gone, probably trading off with her brother so that he needn't go without a familiar face. He found it difficult to focus on Amjad, what with the Mark so close. Body switching aside, it was all that old, wild magic that made understanding what had become of his friend so hard.
"Cal, you're awake. How do you feel? Do you need anything?"
"I'm fine, lethallin." His voice still came out in a croak half the time, and when he devolved in to a coughing fit Amjad supplied him with more water until it passed. He let Amjad convince him to drink some hearty broth, too. The potions had done something to ease his hunger, but he knew he needed real food.
"Fine, he says." Amjad snorted.
"What about you? You took a blade in the guts."
"I'll be all right. Gabriel's healing plus a flight of some of the best brewed potions available have done wonders." An awkward silence stretched between them, and Cal wasn't about to break it. It was Amjad that spoke first, finally: "I...da'len, I'm so sorry we didn't come for you sooner. The Keeper wouldn't spare the hunters for it. I raged at her, Creators, the things I said. She would not be moved. Andra and the others, we wanted to find you anyway. But the Keeper declared that our aravels were to move on that night. It was agree or be left behind."
"You escaped." Cal could remember it now, the way he was starting to remember many things from his life before now that he found himself in Amjad and Aislinn's care. "I remember, Al--Aislinn had a rope around h--her neck, and you cut her free."
"As the slaver was dragging her away. I remember it. Indeed, I think I shall never forget it. To this day I am sorry my dagger missed that shem bastard's eye." Amjad's face twisted up in a scowl; how odd seeing Aeron's expression on what had been Aled's face.
"They...they..." Cal said, trying to explain to Amjad what he had experienced being tied and subdued, loaded in to a slaver's wagon, blindfolded, gagged. He couldn't, as if he had a geas preventing him from speaking. Amjad took his hand. Amjad had knife calluses that rubbed against Cal's skin, and the Mark prickled along his nerve endings. But still, Cal's heart fluttered at that touch, and the gorge that had risen along with the memories eased.
"It's all right, Cal. You don't have to explain it. If at some point you wish to speak on it I will listen, but you don't owe it to me. Just know that we will keep you safe here."
"I still can't believe it," he whispered, studying the featureless ceiling. He felt glad it wasn't the wagon, but he wished for an aravel. "And you the Inquisitor. They spoke of you. The Magister and his underlings."
"I hope I strike abject terror in to their black hearts," Amjad snarled, his face like a rabid wolf's, all teeth and deadly promise.
"You did. You do. No one would ever say as much, but...I knew. I learned to hear their joys, their slightest annoyances. Their fear." All could mean danger for him, if he reacted incorrectly. Survival had made him cagey, if nothing else could be said for him.
Amjad's fingers were in his hair then, gently combing it back from his face. Cal felt an unfamiliar expression cross his lips, looking up at his clanmate; a smile.
"When I am done, all of Tevinter, every slaver from here to the Waking Sea and beyond, will fear me and mine." Amjad said. Amjad had a way of speaking where it was impossible to disagree when he felt strongly about something. When truly serious, his voice lowered and intensity made him still and quiet. If anyone knew the dangers of such conviction, it was Cal. Of course Magister Regulus had his angry moments--shouting, the little table tipping and sending rumpled scrolls in to every corner, a cruel hand on his neck--but worse were the times that began in cold silence.
"I believe you." He whispered. He found himself distracted by Amjad's presence, maybe because he was trying to find some spark of Aeron's still alive and burning in there somewhere. "I...I missed you."
Amjad winced. That wasn't the reaction Cal expected and definitely not what he hoped for.
"I...of course I missed you, Cal." Amjad said, and the carefulness in his tone made Cal want to lash out in a sudden fit of jealousy and rage at what had been taken from him. He knew right then, Amjad had given his heart to someone else, or had at the very least outgrown their old life, outgrown him. For a moment, he felt hatred; Amjad and Aislinn hadn't spent the years they'd all been apart as worthless slaves, good only for blood and as a warm place to spend one's lust. How dare they move on?
The Mark leapt under his palm and the anger evaporated. To bear such a thing...he wouldn't wish it on anyone. He knew it gave Amjad terrible power, even the power to slash open the Veil to hear the Magister talk, but the burden? Knowing only he could save Thedas? And, if he knew Amjad, caring little for Thedas to being with. What after all had Thedas ever done for the Elvhen?
"Are you scared?" He found himself asking, turning Amjad's hand up to study the borders of the Anchor. It whirled like a sandstorm, kicked up by who knew what. Amjad met his eyes, and though Amjad's gaze was level he said,
"I'm terrified." Amjad told him, turning to stare at nothing. He looked his nineteen winters then, an Elvhen youth tossed amidst all of these fool shems with no guidance and little support. Again, the silence stretched between them but this time it was Cal that broke it:
"Is it Gabriel?"
Amjad turned to look at him, surprise in his expression.
"Your new love," Cal whispered, chest seizing. It hurt even to say, and an answering pain echoed in Amjad's dismayed face.
"Cal...no it's not Gabriel, though Gabriel has been good to me since he arrived at Skyhold. Let us...let us leave this conversation for when you are well. Suffice to say I didn't choose another lightly." He paused, clearly struggling. "I could never have done it before, been with you, the way I was. You remember."
He did, he found, when he turned his mind to it and dragged memories free of the black ocean his past had become. They'd been young then, kaffas, how long had he been in Magister Regulus' chains? At least two winters. He would have counted by summers, thanks to the desert climate, but summer there had no obvious end.
They'd been out in the woods alone, and their hunt had soon turned to awkward kissing, hares and deer forgotten. He could still remember the thrill that had gone through him when he'd dared to reach under her robe, his fingers on the bare skin of her thighs. It had gone no further; she'd pushed him away, disappeared in to the forest to hide.
"You weren't happy," he tried. He understood the power of whatever curse it was that had befallen Aeron and Aled, but he couldn't know its ins and outs the way they did.
"That is a massive understatement, ma falon." Amjad said, hands clasped in front of him, back bent. "It wasn't because of you. I loved you. I still love you, even if it's a different love. I was never going to be a good bondmate. I was never going to settle down with you or any other hunter, never going to make strong Elvhen babies and be the blasted Keeper. I'm sorry," Amjad said, sighing a heavy sigh. "It wasn't my destiny, I suppose."
Cal took Amjad's hand this time, ignoring the mark as much as he could.
"I just hope whoever..." he choked up, the emotions still powerful. "Whoever you're with, that they appreciate you."
"You wouldn't approve, but...yes. I would say they do." He wouldn't approve? He didn't like the sound of that but he didn't press; he didn't really want to know. "Regardless," Amjad added, "you are our clanmate and we will make sure you never want for anything. More than that..."
The shadows around the fire came to life in his mind, hulking werewolf shapes that loomed over what light the clan had cultivated to keep them safe through the night. Hiding under the aravel as the halla screamed and arrows blackened the sky. He could still see the bodies, heads severed, split open and gore everywhere. He, Aeron, Aled, and the rest of the children hiding, Aeron with her little blade in hand as if she could kill even a werewolf with it. Beyond clanmates, the bond that had been forged then bound them even tighter than being clan Brangwen.
"I know, lethallin."
"I wish I could stay at your side day and night, but my station doesn't allow for such niceties," Amjad grumbled, maybe trying to put the memory out of his head, "but Aislinn and I will try and spend as much time with you as we can. You can trust Regina, even though she's a shem. When you're feeling better, you might go and speak to Commander Cullen. I...from what I know of him, he might be able to relate."
"Commander Cullen?" He said, incredulous. A human, probably, and with a fancy title besides.
"He was involved in the Kirkwall rebellion and not always on the right side. You should ask him about it. But I have judged him to be a good man, and he has proved indispensable for the Inquisition's efforts."
Amjad always spoke like a First, with fancy words and a measured voice, and Cal had to concentrate to keep up.
"Maybe," he allowed, though he couldn't imagine going to find some big important shem on his own.
"Try to sleep, ma vhenan. I will return to you as soon as I can."
Amjad went so far as to kiss his fingers, and he tried to ignore the feelings it conjured up. Eventually, exhaustion took him.
"Kaffas, Amjad," Dorian said as Amjad emerged from the infirmary. Amjad stumbled and caught himself on the door jamb, clammy and pale. "You aren't well enough to be up and about." He went over to help keep Amjad on his feet, putting his arm around Amjad's shoulders. He thought he could safely explain that away later if anyone asked, though what he dearly wanted to do was pick Amjad up bodily and carry him all the way back to his quarters.
"Well, what was I going to do? Have you there with me?"
"Yes, well. I can imagine how that might have turned out. Evil Tevinter Magister and all that rot."
"Just so. Now help me back to my room, will you? If you can stand to."
There was a barb on Amjad's tongue, one that he certainly deserved.
"I will." He said, short. There was nothing to be gained by returning that bitterness in kind, but he wasn't so evolved as to do otherwise.
"Dorian." Amjad's tone made him look down, to find the elf watching him with unblinking eyes. They were alone, Dorian realized, a rare moment of privacy. Dorian felt rooted to the spot as Amjad's arms wound gently around his neck, so aware of their closeness, Amjad's warmth despite the wound sapping the vitality from Amjad's body. Kaffas, when things like this happened, his wits went right out the window. All he could do was hold Amjad tight in return, his cheeks flushing as he realized his arousal was a little more ardent than was acceptable in polite company. The kiss was inevitable, soft, yet hot enough to burn.
"You shouldn't have done it," Dorian whispered when they parted.
"Emma lath, you would have died. You know that I must protect you."
Amjad let him go and Dorian turned his attention once again to helping Amjad back to the room. They made it through the courtyard without being accosted--Dorian was doing his best arrogant Tevinter noble impression, which tended to put people off in a variety of hilarious ways (he particularly enjoyed it when Mother Giselle made that face as if she'd just tasted gone off milk)--and then in to the Great Hall. Varric looked as if he would come over to them, his lips pursed in a sour look. He thought better of it, apparently, and let them go without comment. Merciful Andrastae, but Dorian didn't want to speak to anyone at a time like this.
The blast of winter air that hit him in the face when they made it past the door and in to the room proper helped clear his thoughts; Maker, but Amjad could have died. Died, while he was face down in the blasted sand without a drop of mana to his name. The sense of helplessness made his guts tie up in a pert little bow of misery and anger. He wrangled Amjad on to the bed; the walk had taken most of Amjad's energy. He looked grey under his dark skin, ashy with pain and weariness.
"Let me see it," Dorian said, crawling up on to the bed with him. He started to take Amjad's clothes off with shaking hands. Amjad laughed, but there was little sexual motivation in it. He wanted to see the wound, reassure himself that Amjad was going to be all right. Amjad obliged and wriggled out of what little he had on. Dorian ran his fingers over the white bandage, red at its edges. Damn, still bleeding. He could scarcely think through the panic. Him, a battle mage of incomparable skill (if he did say so himself) and here he was on the verge of blubbering like a child.
He started when Amjad took his hand, drawing it away from the wound.
"I will be all right. Some bleeding is normal. Regina said so."
"You...I thought...for a moment. Kaffas!" He couldn't speak, blast it all.
"I know." Amjad reached up to caress the line of his jaw, those hands so rough from killing over and over again, the dagger hilt wielded in such a sure grip it was an extension of Amjad's arm. "I'm sorry for worrying you."
Dorian frowned. "You enjoyed it, didn't you?" He accused, seeing that subtle quality to Amjad's expression that reminded him of a young mage who had just mastered a difficult spell.
"Well, not the blade in the guts, no. But it's rare to find another Tempest as skilled as I am. The chance to match wits, technique...Mythal, so thrilling! And I won. That dirty bastard is hyena food and I'm here to fight another day. To love you another day."
Dorian just shook his head. Trying to control Amjad would be as foolish as trying to tame a wyvern, he knew that, but sometimes he wished Amjad had chosen something else. A bow, maybe. (While he knew how to use one he never did in combat). At least then he wouldn't be in the thick of it, breaking flasks and going hand to hand with the enemy.
Amjad pulled him down to lie on the bed.
"Dorian, stop it. Here, help me change the dressing."
That, he could do. He followed Amjad's directions, dipping in to the bag of supplies Regina had sent. He shied away from the sight of the open wound. It was his little secret; gore made him light headed. Still, he worked through it, though he was sure he looked like he was about to pass out, much to his chagrin. First, the poultice, an herb paste that stained his fingers green-black, the smell permeating everything; he doubted Amjad would ever get the medicinal scent out of his bedclothes. Then, the bandage, clean, fresh. It did him good to see that unmarred white. He taped it down, careful not to put undue pressure on Amjad's already taxed body.
"There. You did well." Amjad told him, giving his hand a squeeze. Dorian went to the washbasin to clean off, still shivering. He came back and was about to crawl in to bed when Amjad said, "take those clothes off, emma lath. You won't want to sleep in them."
He did as told, shucking his clothing and leaving it draped over the nearest chair. He'd never quite broken the habit; his whole life, servants would have swept in silently to fold his clothing within moments. He stretched out next to Amjad, his hand resting oh so lightly on the bandage, a reminder that Amjad would heal. Amjad couldn't move much, but his hands still worked and he used them readily, one in Dorian's hair, the other trailing over the flat plane of his belly.
"What? I can't fuck you but I can still bring you some pleasure, if you want it." A moment where he couldn't manage a response, Amjad laughing. Amjad's laughter never hurt. It had joy in it, and love. Gentle teasing. Perversely, it made Dorian calm down, lose some of his shame about such an act when his amatus was badly hurt. "You look so scandalized," Amjad finished.
"I don't know if I will ever get used to your loose tongue." Happiness suffused him, blunting the shock, the little stinger of shame that pierced his soft emotions. Amjad's touch, when he reached Dorian's cock, was gentle.
"Do you want it, emma lath?" Amjad asked him, eyes lambent with emotion. Amjad could be a cold blooded killer, but whenever they were together he was sweet, the picture of compassion. Those eyes that could hold so much cold hatred were always warm, when fixed on him. He felt himself grow hard in Amjad's grip; how could he do otherwise? Here, locked away in Amjad's quarters, he could forget his fears and worries, and his body responded in kind.
"Always," Dorian told him, gazing back at him like some lovestruck idiot. It was hard to keep the smile off of his face, a thing his father certainly would have scolded him for; being too expressive was a problem in Tevinter. The kind of problem that could end with your death if you expressed your feelings to the wrong person. Soon Amjad was stroking him, all but demanding an orgasm from him. He was so good with his hands it was a crime, and he knew all the ins and outs of Dorian's desires. Again the thought of what Cole had said came unbidden, Amjad promising him he would fulfill his darkest wants. The very idea was enough to undo him and in no time he was crying out and thrusting in to Amjad's fist, the orgasm taking him over.
When it was done Amjad looked as satisfied as if he'd had an orgasm too. Offering pleasure made Amjad as happy as if he were receiving, and Dorian felt as if all his troubles had been smoothed away by something as simple as this had been. Amjad had that effect on him.
"I'm sorry I can't reciprocate, amatus." He murmured, tired already. The stress of the day and then a good orgasm were more than enough to lull him in to a doze.
"Oh, don't worry. I doubt I'd enjoy it much anyway, emma lath. Go to sleep."
And sleep he did, content. Before he'd thought his quick couplings and his first romance, aborted by his father's sellswords, were the best he could aspire to. He had learned to expect only the rush of forbidden sex. Contentment? That was new. Rare. And now that he knew it was possible, he would fight to keep the memory close to his heart.