He hadn’t expected this
Outside he could hear Jasper washing the dishes that had no doubt piled up. The sound of running water stuttered as plates and cups slid in and out of the sink. A slap as the wet rag would be set aside and the dishes placed in the drainer. The process picked up again, a metal pot ringing against the sides of a sink.
Below that Jasper was not singing. The silence struck out at Dorian like an animal trapped in a cage. He rolled over in bed, putting his back to the door, acting as if the tension in the emptiness would dissipate if he didn’t look at it. A free hand traveled over his bare shoulder to touch the bed sores that had begun developing on his back. Others were boiling up on his hips as well, painful red blisters he knew he could magic away. At best Jasper had offered to make a healing salve, or even better, encourage Dorian to leave his bed.
That was when Dorian had locked the door. He hadn’t seen his lover in days, though food inexplicably appeared on his desk each morning. This wasn’t shocking, Dorian knew what Jasper could do to locks. It only proved that Jasper was keeping himself away. Dorian sent a murderous look at the plate and curled in further, shutting his eyes against the morning light. He didn’t want to look at anything. He knew he’s just watch the shadows on the wall, or stare at his hazy reflection in the mirror across from the bed. He knew he’d only stare at the silk covered cradle in the corner, listening for laughter that would never come.
The water shut off in the other room. Dorian couldn’t tell how much time has passed. Will Jasper knock on the door again? Will he talk through it like a placating parent? Will he just lean against it and pretend he isn’t listening for Dorian’s sobs? The floor creaked in front of the door and Dorian only waited. He could always pretend he was asleep. That was about as liable to work as it always was. Neither believed it, but neither pushed it. Under the sounds of the house Jasper whispered, a habit he took up to avoid scaring Dorian. Dorian is always scared now, it never helped him.
“Vhenan,” Jasper says, “The leaves are changing. You’ve never seen them like this.” Dorian says nothing. The door unlocked and he shifted to cover his face behind his hands. He doesn’t want Jasper to see him like this, knowing full well he already has. Carefully Jasper navigated the room. Unpacked baby shower presents were strewn across the floor, waiting only to be returned or hidden away. Dust covers the vanity across from the bed. Jasper had pulled the velvet off the mirror mere days after the funeral, hoping it would add more light, but the heavy curtains wouldn’t let anything through. On good days, and even this bad day Jasper cracked them open to let some warmth in. He sat on the edge of the bed nearest Dorian, putting a hand on his shoulder and rubbing along the line of Dorian’s collarbone, noting how sharp his bones have gotten. It smelled in here, unwashed and decaying. The dead flowers don’t help, but it feels wrong to throw out mourning bouquets. It was worse than it had been when...Jasper still can’t think about it. He looked out the window on the opposite wall, at the tree in the backyard, fresh mulch still wet from last night’s rain. Maybe it will be today.
“He needs us,” Jasper reminds him, returning his gaze to Dorian, now brushing his hair back from his neck. It had grown longer in the past weeks, but was limp and dirty. It clung to his fingers and he surreptitiously wiped his hand on his pants. Jasper’s hands were stiff and chapped from cleaning, the knuckles on his hands a shiny pink. Dorian ignores his worry. Jasper is in moving. He doesn’t mourn, not like Dorian. No, he gardens now. Can’t Jasper see he just wants to stay inside?
There’s a tree in the backyard he wants him to see, a half grown birch, with its young leaves staining yellow. Dorian can see it’s shadow from his bed, and he decides it’s all he needs. He could barely stomach it standing over him as it was. He hadn’t wanted it. It wasn’t proper. The tree was entirely for Jasper and his people. When they planted it he held a vigil alone, singing prayers for Falon’din. A baby rotted beneath it, and that in no way comforted Dorian. He wanted to send him to the Maker, not some absent gods-no, not even gods. Slave owners and war lords, that’s what Solas had said in Mythal’s temple, so long ago. But he hadn’t been of the mind to be part of any arrangements.
“Dorian, please.” Jasper could not be physically closer to him if he tried. This was driving him insane. Everything he did was wrong. It pushed Dorian farther from him, and he couldn’t figure out why. Jasper only wanted to see Dorian even attempt to heal. This was, simply put, just festering. It scared him, because Jasper had seen this happen in his clan. A child killed by shem, or a lover set upon by wolves. Those left behind never get past it and then they can never leave. They waste away like they themselves had died. He wouldn’t let this happen to Dorian.
“I might take the..uh, I might take it down today. What do you think?” Jasper asks. The silk only seems to sag lower over it, like it could hide. His palms itch, remembering the cold weight in his hands, reaching into the cradle like his touch alone would...do anything. He hadn’t realized his lip was trembling until his own reflection broke him out of his trance.
“Please,” Dorian practically begs. It is a low point and they both know it. The crack in his voice physically hurts. It’s so soft it’s almost swallowed in the cavern of the room. “Just go.” Jasper shakes his head before realizing Dorian can’t see him.
“Don’t do this, I want to help.” Jasper’s fingers touch a sore and Dorian flinches back. Neither one can move for a moment, until Dorian pulls the heavy comforter closer around his shoulders. He keeps his back to him and breathes through the stinging pain for a few moments.
“You’ve done enough.” Dorian says it as a challenge, but Jasper is too tired to rise to the bait. He drops his hand into his lap, and lets tears well in his eyes. He almost hopes Dorian is watching him in the mirror but it’s a fleeting thought. He rises and tries to leave with grace, but he trips over a stray box and falls to one knee. He moves to catch himself with his left hand, but only succeeds in smashing his arm against the solid wood bed frame. It hurts so bad he can barely see, and for a moment he thinks he’s passed out. But it fades slowly, and he can stand. It’s a battle to get up again, but he does. When he turns over his shoulder, Dorian is watching him, half risen up on his elbows. He looks disgusting, and it’s all Jasper can think.
“Cullen is coming over today, to help with groceries.” Jasper’s tone is half choked and Dorian can’t figure out why he’s talking about this. “Will you join us?” He stares at the wall above Dorian longer than he should. When there is no answer he leaves and shuts the door with a snap.
The kitchen is a relief to every one of his senses. This is Jasper’s domain. Today, it smells like elfroot and lemongrass. Bright sun reveals every meticulously scrubbed counter, every polished cabinet. Jasper forces himself to smile like he’s proud of it. It’s a small room, all cream colored and light oak cabinets, with real tile on the floor. Jasper has grouted every single one. Living flowers from the garden served as a centerpiece for the kitchen table, sorted and bound with twine. Herbs had been hung to dry over the sink, which lent the room its lemongrass scent. Heads of garlic were in a small pot by the door waiting to be buried. Jasper never had to stop working. He went to the sink to scrub the dirt from his hands. It was always a slow process, methodical and deep. Water near boiling, antibacterial soap, then over and over until his skin went numb.
He shut off the water and went toward the front of the house. The mirror in the hallway was still covered. Jasper absently caught the edge of the table beneath it, looking for dust. He wandered into the parlor on the same mission. This room was still set up in a semi circle of couches and low tables from the wake. It looked nice and welcoming this way, if Jasper could only stop seeing all his friends dressed in black, cowered on the couch like death was already at their heels. Sera couldn’t even stay longer than an hour. Cass had stuck around the longest, extended her trip over here from Orlais for a few days just to make sure Jasper was set up. Then they thought Dorian’s grief would pass in a week, maybe. Two, at most, before he was up again.
Jasper traced the floral pattern on the back of the closest sofa, staring really at nothing, listening to the quiet creak of the house. Sometimes if he wasn’t paying attention he could hear laughter come screaming down the hall. Or the pad of barefeet and a rustling like Dorian was up. Creators, it made his skin crawl the way this house played tricks. He started at that thought and looked to the altar to Mythal on his mantle, covered in flowers. A mother’s vengeance, it promised. But what in the void was he supposed to fight?
No, He wouldn’t let himself fall into that trap. Jasper continued his patrol until he was certain every surface in the single level ranch house was polished within an inch of its life. Then he went back into the kitchen and scooped up the bowl of garlic, heading into his backyard to garden.
The garden was a beautiful escape, ringed in chinese maples, and low bushes of crystal grace. Normally, they didn’t grow here but he was careful and well funded. The grass beneath his feet was well grown and soft, a gentle dark green that he welcomed. Jasper passed under the birch in the center of the garden and smiled at it, as if Felix could see him. He didn’t speak or anything, but he laid his ears low to his head and bowed a little before going to the dirt he had turned for the bulbs. Kneeling down he instantly ran his hands through it, inhaling the strong bitterness. The dirt was silky, and clung to anything it could. He could feel it living in his hands. Slowly he planted each bulb, whispered praises to them so they’d grow better, and sprinkled some water over them. When that was done he didn’t rise but rather stayed on his knees and stared for a while, pausing to take in the feelings of the wind and the sun.
If he tried hard enough Jasper could almost forget that it happened. He would stop feeling the hurt and he could see Dorian and Felix asleep on the couch, just waiting for him to go back inside and fix lunch. He could pretend that his friends were close by, and his clan was near enough to visit, and he had control over his life. In many ways it felt like the control he exerted over the garden, and the house meant he had less and less control over his life. He was trapped in his rituals. People tried to call it his grieving process but he doubted this was healing. Everything, all of it felt so slow and yet he still couldn’t keep up. The pressure on his chest got tighter and he pressed his fists into his stomach like he could keep it all in. He didn’t need to be crying here, or now, and especially not when Cullen would be over soon. Biting his lip hard Jasper got to his feet and went inside, rewashing his hands and pulling back his hair. It had grown long enough to put in a small tail at the back of his head, but the curls still struck out on their own from time to time.
Mindlessly Jasper found his pad and pencil and began detailing everything in their cabinets, a neat orderly list. He had done this in the morning as well when he first woke, but then he made lunch and well...He didn’t need an excuse to distract himself. Cullen had been coming around to help with groceries once a month. Jasper does what he can but he hated leaving Dorian alone, like he might vanish if he wasn’t watching.
As if on cue, Cullen saddled in the front door, bags in hand and his mabari at his heels. Cullen had trained him in therapy, aiming to mostly help veterans, but it was a boon to Jasper as well. He knelt down to scratch the large dog as Cullen laid the bags down. He licked Jasper’s hand gently and his nerves shot up again, but he just smiled tightly at the animal before turning to the sink. Cullen and Jasper didn’t say much, Cullen moving around the kitchen quietly to put things away. Jasper envied him quietly, for being more functional than he was. They understood each other, but despite assurances that it would pass Jasper just felt more hopeless every day.
“He didn’t get up.” Cullen finally said, looking at the bedroom door. He crossed his arms and turned to face Jasper, who had returned to washing his hands.
“What answer are you expecting?” Jasper dried his hands tersely on the cloth by the sink, delaying having to look him in the eye.
“We talked about this. It could be time to talk to someone, a doctor-”
“No. It’s not like that, I swear. He needs time.”
“I understand, but he’s killing himself. You can’t keep lying to yourself about it Jasper, he’s not eating, not bathing.” Jasper just shrugged, handing a list to Cullen from the pad on the counter. “Enabling this destructive behavior isn’t being considerate, it’s just making it worse.”
“So you’ve said.” He muttered. Cullen took a hard look at the shiny pink marks on Jasper’s hands, bringing his eyes back up to Jasper and easing his head to the side.
“It’s not the only thing worsening” He added. The mabari paced the kitchen feeling Jasper’s agitation rise. He rubbed against the elf’s legs, sighing gently.
“I’ll let him out.” Jasper deflected and opened the screen door for the dog to walk around the garden outside. He trusted him with the yard, knowing he wouldn’t eat any growing produce. Cullen just scanned the list and pocketed it in silence. He muttered something ending in Andraste and crossing himself. He and Jasper moved to go sit at the kitchen table.
“You could try changing some things about the room,” Cullen offered. “Is the crib still up?”
“Of course,” he answered sullenly. “I’ve tried. It tears me apart every time, I can barely…” he sucking in a painful breath. “I don’t want to do this, why do you always try to talk about it?”
“Who else will? Your plants? The curtains? You don’t leave the house.” It wasn’t judgement, but Jasper sank lower into his chair.
“It’s not that I don’t want to, trust me.” He looked up at the streaming sunshine. “I’ve tried but I’m so scared. Dorian isn’t well, he can’t take care of himself-”
“I understand. I do. But we both know you staying here isn’t just on taking care of him alone. You, alone, are also trapped here. If you don’t start leaving you never will.” Jasper scrubbed at his face to hide his expression at that.
“Anything else?” He asked coldly, placing his hands on the table, feeling for all the world like he was screaming.
“I’ll be back in a week. If he hasn’t gotten up I’m calling a doctor.” Cullen warned, and got up to open the back door. His dog came immediately and gave one last look to Jasper before they made to leave. “And please, call Cassandra, she’s been worried sick.” They left after that, leaving Jasper on his own again. He looked out to the yard, walking numbly to the sapling in the middle, kneeling before it. He rubbed his palms on the soft grass, but barely felt it against his cracked skin.
He didn’t understand why they lost their baby. He probably never would. But this was all he had to care for now. His husband, the love of his life, who couldn’t even sit up, and his garden. He stayed out there for a while, just sitting in the breeze and feeling his pain. It wrapped around him like a fist and he let it. By the time the sun began to set he had taken all he could and stood up. With the same reverence he walked into his house and set the kettle on for hot water.
The bedroom door opened.
Jasper looked up startled, to see Dorian wrapped in a sheet, leaning heavily on the door frame, exhausted from having walked this far.
“Vhenan?” He asked softly, turning his full body toward him. “Is there something you needed?” Dorian held out a hand and Jasper came closer, taking it. He smelled, and he shook, but he was beautiful, and standing up.
“I miss him.” Dorian said softly. “Please take the cradle down.” He took a few steps forward before sitting on the floor of the kitchen, still wrapped in the sheet. Jasper looked at him stunned for just a moment before entering the room. It was still lit by the setting sun, but seemed so empty in its chaos. He looked over at the cradle, heart sinking. Dorian sighed heavily from outside the door. He had to do this. He had to do this. He had to do this.
One more step, he thought. One more step. One more step. And there it was in front of him. Towering. Gaping. The sound of screams and crying filled his ears, feeling cold, sagging skin, poisoning his hands. He couldn’t, he couldn’t.
He had to.
He ripped off the silk.