In the end, Jory drinks from the cup. He does it because he realizes it’s his only choice. He does it because he sees Duncan reaching for the hilt of his sword while his fellow recruit eyes the both of them, body tense and ready to move should that sword become unsheathed. He drinks from the cup because his mind is frantic and his heart is pounding, and he can’t think properly; can’t imagine any other option but this.
His chest caves in on itself as he lifts the cup to his lips. His vision blurs with tears as he begins to drink. This is the end, he thinks. This is the end.
He shuts his eyes tight against the night, against the stern look Duncan is giving him. He does not stand there in Ostagar, risking his life for a cause he isn’t sure he believes in anymore. He feels the burning from a distance, from miles and days away. He is not in Ostagar. He is instead in Highever, his nose buried in the boundless curls of his wife’s hair. His skin crawls and his veins, his throat, his entire being scream out in searing pain, but he is in Highever, wrapped in his love’s arms and surrounded by the promise of a future together.
In the end, Jory drinks from the cup. He is overwhelmed by the blood of the darkspawn, but not defeated: he masters the taint. He succumbs to the shock of it, certainly, and he collapses onto the cold, hard floor, but he survives. He drinks from the cup because he thinks he has to. He survives because he needs to.
He knows that Helena is waiting for him.
During the earliest days of the Blight, he and Alistair are twin specters of sorrow. They weep when they think no one can hear them. They mourn the loss of things both physical and conceptual. Alistair mourns his mentor and Jory suffers the absence of his wife, and they both break at the loss of their homes, their futures, their plans. They rail against each other in the daylight, snapping and shouting, frustrations forming in the shape of passive aggressive remarks and outright accusations. Alistair isn’t setting up the tent properly, Jory mumbles one moment, and besides, he growls seconds later, the Wardens had lied, stealing any chance Jory had at a real life after the Blight. Jory snores in his sleep, Alistair complains, and has no right to blame anyone but himself for his loss; it was his fault alone for not fully heeding Duncan’s warnings. Those first few days after Ostagar see the two men as animals, lashing out at the most convenient targets: each other. They almost come to blows a handful of times before and even during their time in Lothering, dissuaded only by their fellow Warden’s protests.
In those days, it is Helena that keeps Jory with the group. He thinks to leave several times, even begins to storm off once following a particularly nasty argument with Alistair. He barely makes it out of camp before something stops him: the memory of a hand in his, of her eyes staring proudly up at him. He knows that she would have him stay, were she here. He knows that she is waiting for him, and that she will be overjoyed to have him come to her not as a deserter, but as a hero. In that moment, with the camp at his back and the horizon before him, he thinks of her. For her, he knows, he has to see this through.
And so he does.
He thinks of her every step of the way. Even as the horrors he endures change him, altering him into some darker, wearier version of himself, he keeps the memory of her planted firmly in the forefront of his mind. He closes his eyes as Leliana sings a song and he sees Helena, bright and beautiful as the day they met. He listens to Wynne’s sage advice and thinks of how he might relay it to Helena; how they might use Wynne’s wisdom as they raise their child together. He and Alistair eventually make amends, and though they will never be more than comrades-in-arms, Jory tries to imagine a world where they’re friends, where he introduces Alistair to Helena and she becomes endeared by his foolish jokes and sarcasm. He imagines her reaction to the towering Sten; to Zevran’s endless flirtations; to Oghren and Shale and Morrigan. Helena is far from the war, safe in the home they made together, but still Jory keeps her with him. With her at his side, he cannot falter. Through possessions and betrayals; through the Broodmother and the werewolves, he persists.
He keeps her with him, and he is stronger for it.
The moment he can, he goes to her. No, he doesn’t simply go—he runs. He has never been at the center of such opulence as he is during the ceremony in Denerim, but to him, all of it is temporary. The crowds cheering for the remaining Wardens and their companions; the bright formal clothing befitting a nobleman; the gifts and thanks…they are all wasted on him. He remains long enough to be respectful, to bid farewell to his fellows and friends, and then he leaves. He feels no guilt in it: he has the blessing of the one they're already calling the Hero of Ferelden. He might have left even if he didn’t, as the Wardens were never a home for him. His home is in Highever, waiting with new life in her arms, and he will not be kept from her.
It has been a year. Highever has changed, as has he. He worries at first that his memory might falter, that he might forget his way home. But his feet do not fail him: they march forward with purpose, leading him effortlessly to her. He finds himself at their doorstep in what feels to be an instant. A part of him is worried: worried that she might be angry with him, that she might be distant or wary. Would their child know him as their father? Had the labor left Helena bed-bound and sickly? Would she be able to run to him, and would she be willing to?
Those worries were distractions. They were keeping him from her, from the future he deserved, the one he’d earned. He had marched endlessly for her; had helped to slay an Archdemon. He would not be swayed by his own mind, not now. He shoos his concerns from his mind, takes a deep breath, and opens the front door.
The sunlight breaks through the windows, illuminating an empty house. There are cobwebs hanging from the rafters. Their bed is untouched and Helena’s wardrobe is filled with dust-covered dresses. His mind is frantic. His heart is pounding and he can’t think properly; can’t understand how this is the end that’s been presented to him. He’s just about to panic, to run into the streets screaming her name when a voice rings out from behind him.
“Jory,” says the voice of Helena’s father, older, rougher than Jory remembers it being. “I’d heard that you’d returned.”
Jory turns to the older man, searches his face for an explanation. His mind races with a single question, and it’s in the way Helena’s father looks at him that Jory finds the answer.
Jory joins the Inquisition because of Leliana. It takes three messages, each more firmly worded than the last, and a single reminder of a decade-old promise to get him to Haven, but he goes nonetheless. He knows that he is only wanted there because of his connection to the missing Wardens. Were it not for that, and were it not for Leliana, he would be nowhere near this organization. He would be back in Denerim, back in service to Eamon Guerrin, back to fighting for some semblance of a normal life. He doesn’t want this, if he’s honest with himself. He has no interest in fighting another war, not after what the last one cost him. But because Leliana beckons him, he follows.
Jory joins the Inquisition because of Leliana, but he stays because of Lavellan. She is young, much younger than he was when he joined the Wardens. Her eyes are bright and curious, and though her friendly nature and endless questions bother Jory, he finds himself endeared. He sees his past in her: his own foolish attempt at nobility; Alistair’s wit and dedication; the Hero of Ferelden’s unending courage and determination. He’s not sure if he believes that Lavellan is truly the Herald of Andraste, but he does believe that if anyone can help fix this mess, it’s her. She is capable, he thinks. She is so capable that she doesn’t even realize it, and that’s what makes him stay.
Lavellan is here because she thinks that it’s her only choice. She may have other reasons, certainly, but that is the main reason, the one that keeps her from fleeing. She will serve the Inquisition because she thinks she has to. She will survive because she needs to. And after it’s all over—once the fires have died out and the battles have ended—she will live. If he can, Jory will see to it that she does.
Someone might be waiting for her, after all.