Written for Miri1984 as part of the PeopleofThedas V-Day "Sugar and Spice" secret gift exchange.

The first time he encountered the runaway mage, Duncan was on his way back from Jader, passing the fork where the North Road intersected the highway running south parallel to Lake Calenhad. He actually encountered the templars first, who asked him if he'd seen an apostate that morning. Unconcerned, Duncan replied that he hadn't and the templars departed, continuing west while Duncan made his way east toward Denerim.

Later that day, stopping off by a stream to water his mount, he heard a muttered curse invoking various portions of Andraste's body from the other side of a thicket. Drawing his dagger, Duncan secured his mount's reins to a tree branch and cautiously stole through the brush.

A young man in robes was sitting on a rock beside the stream, soaking his feet. Duncan winced; the water came from the coastal mountains and was freezing cold this early in the year. He could only imagine how painful it must be to submerge one's feet for any length of time.

Suddenly, the mage scrambled up, flinching as he attempted to stand on his half-frozen feet.

"If you're looking for the highway, it's in that direction," he called derisively, as though Duncan might have somehow missed the road, which was clearly visible through a break in the trees. "Or is there another reason you're skulking about in the bushes, spying on me?"

The lad was so clean-cut he nearly had facets. His blond hair was neatly trimmed, his face smooth-shaven—if he was even old enough for facial hair at all; Duncan couldn't be certain. He looked incredibly young, standing there in obvious pain, armed with nothing but sass and magic.

"Is there a problem with your feet?" Duncan asked calmly, smiling at the mage's nervous shifting. He looked down at the toes peeking out from beneath the lad's stained and torn robes, and saw a small trickle of blood running down the slope of the largest one.

The young man rolled his eyes. "Of course there is! Wouldn't you know it, I forgot to dig my bloody walking boots out of my bleeding shoe closet!" With a snort, he sat down and made a low, pained sound as he submerged his feet in the water again.

Duncan hummed noncommittally and looked beside the flat boulder the mage sat upon to see a pair of worn light leather slippers. They had holes in the sides and bottoms; they didn't appear to have any sort of sole to them to protect the feet from terrain rougher than a polished marble floor.

"They don't equip you with proper shoes in the mage tower?" he inquired, lifting the useless scrap of leather to inspect it.

The lad tensed when Duncan mentioned the tower, then sighed. "The robes gave me away, I guess?"

"Actually it was the templars I passed earlier," Duncan replied impassively. The mage pulled one of his feet out of the water, poked at a raw, open blister, then put it back in the water again.

"So they're still in the area?" he asked. When Duncan nodded, he grimaced. "They won't have had time to retrieve my phylactery yet, so I might have a while. But I'm not going to get far with my feet in this state and my shoes worn to scraps. Well, that's it, then. I'm done for. Bloody clever bastards, I got to give them that, giving us useless shoes so we can't run far. I'll have to remember that, next time I try to escape."

"Next time?"

"Sure. I was really just testing the waters, this first time out," the lad shrugged. He pulled his feet from the stream and frowned at them. "Guess there's no point in this, then. I didn't dare heal myself with them still around, but it doesn't matter now." Power glowed at his fingertips as the cuts and blisters on his feet began to heal. "I wanted to see how long I could evade them and what sort of problems I would have once I got free."

Duncan nodded. "I didn't know they let apprentices out of the tower."

"Nah, I've been a full, Harrowed mage for months now," the young man replied with a careless shrug, forcing Duncan to revise his estimate of the lad's age upward. Late teens, early twenties, then. Duncan wondered if he was getting so old that everyone younger than him was starting to seem impossibly young. "Idiots pull a stunt like that and then expect me to stay put? I knew the second it was over and I was moved up into the mage quarters I was getting out of there. Even learned herbalism so I could tag along on the next herb-gathering expedition to give it a shot. Anyway, you'd better go, before they come back and accuse you of harboring me."

Why he didn't offer to conscript the mage, Duncan didn't know, except that he still seemed far too young. Instead, as the lad pulled his stockings and shoes back on and sat calmly upon the boulder, waiting for the templars to arrive, Duncan bade him farewell and continued on his way.

The second time he encountered the runaway mage was nearly two years later, in the Coastlands near Highever. It was nearing nightfall when Duncan smelled smoke from a campfire as he looked for a place to make camp for the night himself. He followed the scent, to determine whether whoever had built the campfire was a potential threat or not, and found himself suddenly paralyzed as he tried to step between a pair of large trees.

The man sitting at the campfire surged to his feet, a staff in his hands and power starting to glow beneath his skin. Duncan's lips twitched beneath his beard as he recognized the mage.

"I see you got yourself some proper boots this time," Duncan remarked casually, ignoring the fact that he was unable to move.

The mage flashed a wide grin and released the glyph, then set down his staff. "I tucked them away someplace safe before the second time I was caught, so I'd have them available this time."

"You'd think the templars would stop letting you out to gather herbs, sooner or later."

"Nah, actually had to escape from the tower itself, this time."

"How did you get off the island?"

Again, that flash of a grin. "That's between me and the loch monsters, and the loch monsters aren't talking. Good thing, too. Otherwise my reputation would be ruined."

Trying to decide whether to invite himself to stay or continue on his way, Duncan studied the mage for a moment. He'd matured, in the last two years. His face had lost its boyish roundness, and his eyes much of their innocence. His sass was now less false bravado and more cocky assurance coupled with good-natured devilry. His blond hair, once so short and neatly trimmed, was longer and shaggier, brushing his shoulders in untidy locks. He was lean, but his shoulders had broadened and filled out as well. Though, Duncan supposed, it was possible at least some of that was an illusion due to the rough commoner's garb he was wearing, which had clearly been sewn with someone possessed of a thinner frame in mind.

Somewhere along the way, Duncan mused, the Natural Order had gone terribly awry, to give this young man a mage's talent, when every mischievous flash of his teeth and energetic twitch screamed "rogue." He reminded Duncan of himself as a younger man, in many ways, though Duncan had never been so glib. The lad really ought to have been a swindler in a city somewhere, fast-talking rich merchants out of their purses, rather than fleeing the templars.

He decided to invite himself to stay. He'd been traveling alone entirely too much of late, and missed conversation that wasn't about Grey Warden business in some way or another. Without asking permission, Duncan began unloading his packs and removing the saddle from his mount.

"You're heading to Highever, then?" he asked the mage—who didn't appear to notice or care that Duncan was making himself at home—while he worked.

"How'd you guess?"

Duncan shrugged. "Port city. Great deal of traffic coming and going. It would make sense for you to try to find work on a merchant vessel about to leave port."

The young man lifted his eyebrows. "That was the general plan."

"You'll never make it."

"Oh, really?"

"Merchant captains want men who are experienced at sea, with strong backs and arms for loading and moving cargo, and raising sails up the mast," Duncan explained. "Most of those men have been at sea since they were barely more than lads. I'll wager you've never lifted anything heavier than that staff you carry."

"Hmm, good point." Though he frowned, the lad didn't sound all that disheartened. "Ferelden's a rather bleak place to be a mage on the run from the Chantry, isn't it? Here I am sandwiched between Denerim, with the Grand Cleric and all her templars, and Orlais, seat of the Divine. It's unsporting, that's what it is. They just don't give an honest apostate a fighting chance."

"You could always go to Jader."

"What'll that get me besides closer to the army of templars in Val Royeaux?"

Duncan dug strips of dried venison out of his pack and tossed one to the mage, who tore into it hungrily.

"When did you last eat?" Duncan asked.

The lad chewed energetically and took another bite before he'd finished swallowing the first. "Yesterday morning," he replied with his mouth full. "Teaching myself to trap prey for food is first on my list of things to do if I get hauled back to the tower again. I didn't count on being free so long the supplies I brought along would run out. You never answered my question. What's in Jader?"

Duncan took a bite of his own venison and chewed sedately, rinsing it down with a drink from his waterskin, which he passed to the mage. "The Grey Wardens have a large base there. Mages who join the Wardens aren't subject to the Chantry's supervision anymore."

"Grey Wardens. I think I read about them, once. One of those lifelong service gigs, isn't it?" He grimaced and shook his head when Duncan nodded. "No thanks. Rather pointless to trade the Chantry's yoke for another."

Why Duncan didn't tell the young mage that he himself was a Grey Warden, and possessed the right to conscript him against his will, he didn't know. Perhaps the lad reminded him a bit too much of himself. Conscripted off the gallows, he'd never really had much of a choice. It seemed a pity to deny the young man a chance for the freedom he seemed so set on attaining.

The mage talked constantly of nothing in particular as the evening wore on; how his first and second escape attempts had ended, what his punishment had been for them both, what he planned to do with his freedom, how nice the warm early autumn night was. Duncan realized with a wry smile that he hadn't known what he was getting himself into when he thought companionship might be nice for the evening. Mostly, he nodded a lot, and wondered when he'd lost the ability to banter and make casual conversation. Finally, he gave up trying to keep pace with the mage's endless ability to chatter inconsequentially and bade the lad a good night, spreading out his bedroll and beginning to remove his armor.

The mage made a disgruntled sound. "Bedroll. Huh. Now why didn't I think of that? I've woken up most mornings these last couple of weeks with pine needles in places you don't want to imagine."

Chuckling, Duncan tossed him a blanket. "Here, lad. It's warm enough; I won't need it."

In only his linen shirt and breeches, Duncan lay down and turned his back to the mage, who was still sitting by the fire, holding his new blanket and chattering. With each pause in the stream of commentary, Duncan's eyes began to drift shut, only to be jolted awake again as the mage settled upon a new topic and started talking again.

Finally, Duncan rolled onto his back and stared up at the darkened sky. "Do you ever stop talking?" he demanded a touch shortly.

"I haven't to date. Well, unless my mouth was otherwise occupied. Heyyy!" Something shifted in the young man's tone, something that suddenly put Duncan's nerves on alert. "There's something to add to my list of things to do while I'm on the outside. Have sex where it doesn't matter how loud my partner gets. I mean, forget being an apprentice trying to sneak in a quick and—unfortunately—quiet shag behind the bookcases. Imagine being in your own sleeping nook in the senior mage quarters—which, I will add, does very little to facilitate the illusion of privacy to begin with—on your knees before that absolutely delightful fellow who was just Harrowed last week, when suddenly you hear a clank of armor and there's Biff. He's not trying to stop you, mind; he's just... standing there, taking in the show." He made an exaggerated shuddering sound. "Creepy buggers."

"Biff?" Duncan tried to pick the most neutral concept out of that diatribe, which had him reacting in ways that reminded him of just what other forms of companionship he'd been short on in recent years as he imagined the mage on his knees before him.

"Pet name for those enigmatic blokes who never take off their helmets."

"Ah." Deciding to let the subject drop, Duncan closed his eyes and tried to find sleep, only to open them again at a rustling sound and see the mage kneeling over him.

Duncan's voice was unwontedly husky as he asked, "What are you doing?"

"Checking something off the list," the younger man replied as he reached for the laces of Duncan's breeches with another flash of his roguish grin.

Duncan briefly considered protesting, then gave it up as a losing proposition when the mage's hand closed around his partial erection, vibrating with power. It wasn't partial for long.

He'd always had a weakness for mages.

Passivity was not normally his style, but the mage rejected any effort Duncan made to touch him. Instead, his mouth engulfed Duncan, hot and cold by turns, while power sizzled from his fingertips into the sensitive ridge between Duncan's shaft and his balls. Duncan's entire body clenched, and a strangled groan crept from his throat.

"Look at it this way," the mage murmured sometime later as he pulled back his power, giving Duncan a chance to breathe after his groans had become full-out shouts. "At least I'm not talking anymore."

As his mouth plunged downward and his fingers started to glow again, Duncan decided passivity had its merits.

The third time he encountered the runaway mage, another six years had passed and an archdemon had awakened. Every Grey Warden knew it; they felt it happen, felt that moment when the voice of the Old God shifted from a sleepy call, summoning the darkspawn to find it, to a roar of anguish and triumph as their taint corrupted it and released the archdemon from its prison.

A Blight was coming.

The only question was where and when. The records of the Grey Wardens in previous Blights indicated that many years could pass between the time the archdemon awoke and the time it had amassed sufficient darkspawn to unleash an assault upon the surface world. But the darkspawn had been breeding underground for four hundred years since the last Blight; it would not take them long to gather the numbers to attack the surface. When it came, it would be soon.

Which really left only the question of where.

Duncan felt desperation creeping up on him, driving him to recruit more aggressively, train his Wardens more vigorously. He felt his own mortality keenly, felt his time growing short, knowing he had perhaps only a few more years before his Calling was upon him. Before that happened, he wanted to see the end of the Blight. He wanted to see with his own eyes the rewards of his sacrifice.

He was on his way to Redcliffe, where a nearby monastery had offered to host a tournament—pitting their templars and soon-to-be confirmed initiates against local men of arms—to help Duncan find recruits, when the mage almost literally ran smack into Duncan. He stumbled out of the underbrush near a cave Duncan was about to inspect, thinking it a likely place to make camp on a cool Cloudreach night.

He looked harried, and his sleeve was soaked in dried blood, but still he flashed his irrepressible grin at seeing Duncan. "Of course, I'd run into you again. Much as I'd love to stay and catch up, I've got to run. I doubt the templars are more than an hour behind me."

Duncan knew he should let the mage go. The last thing he needed right now was trouble with the templars for harboring an apostate, forcing him to invoke the Right of Conscription or turn the mage over.

And yet...


The mage turned and lifted a surprised eyebrow at Duncan.

"Hide in the bushes, here beside the cave. I'll make sure you're concealed."

"If they have my phylactery with them, we're both done for!" the mage protested, casting his eyes about wildly. "Hiding won't work. The phylactery contains my blood and it glows when I'm near."

"You, or your blood?" Duncan asked sharply.

The mage shrugged. "How should I know? You think the templars tell us how it works?"

"No. I doubt they actually know themselves. Here, give me your arm," Duncan commanded. The mage obeyed, and Duncan ripped away the stained fabric. He rubbed it in the dirt, and tossed it carelessly into the cave. Then he commanded the mage to hide in the bushes again.

The mage had been right. No sooner had Duncan finished arranging a few fallen branches carefully and securing the reins of his mount where the horse would hide the small nook into which the mage had tucked himself, then a pair of templars, male and female, entered the clearing, leading their own mounts by the reins.

"Good evening, ser," the woman said, something unctuous in her tone despite the courtesy of her greeting. In her hand she held a brightly glowing vial. "Might I ask your name and purpose here?"

Duncan stared at her with impassive authority, the look he'd used to stare down blustering nobles and bullies a hundred times since he'd assumed his post in Ferelden. The templar eventually dropped her eyes.

"I am Duncan, Warden-Commander of Ferelden, ser knight," replied Duncan with meticulous and cold propriety. "I'm on Grey Warden business, traveling toward Redcliffe for a tournament. Since you've intruded upon my privacy, perhaps it would be more appropriate if you were to explain your purpose to me."

"Of course. Your pardon, ser," the templar said, bowing belatedly alongside her companion. "I'm Rylock, templar of the Circle Tower. We're hunting an apostate whom we believe to be heading toward Redcliffe. We know he's very near."

"I've seen no one all afternoon," Duncan informed her with an unconcerned shrug. "I just inspected the cave a moment ago, but you're welcome to search it as well, if you wish."

"Thank you, ser." The templar bowed again and handed the vial to her companion, sending him inside to search the cave.

"I must say," Duncan remarked, slowly and casually unloading the packs from his mount, "if your apostate is heading toward Redcliffe, he's a fool. With the monastery there hosting a tournament, the place is going to be crawling with templars. If I were you, Ser Rylock, I'd be hunting further east, toward Lothering and beyond. Most of the templars stationed there will be at the tournament in Redcliffe, after all."

"No, ser," she said adamantly. "He's in this area, there's no question about it. We'll have him in chains and on his way back to the tower by nightfall."

"I see." Duncan made a non-committal sound and went back to unloading his mount.

Momentarily, her companion emerged from the cave, bearing the bloody sleeve and the blazingly bright vial side by side. "Is this supposed to happen?" he asked in confusion.

"Maker's breath!" Rylock gave an impatient growl. "The apostate could be past Lothering by now while we've been chasing a rag!"

"Maybe he healed himself here and there are traces of his magic on the cloth and in the cave," the other templar suggested. "Perhaps that's what the phylactery is detecting?"

"I don't know. We'll have to be sure to mention this anomaly to the Knight-Commander when we get back to the tower."

Muttering, the two of them mounted their horses.

"Come. We can make it a good ways toward Lothering before full dark," she ordered, then turned her head toward Duncan. "Good evening to you, then, Warden-Commander, and thank you for the suggestion. Maker speed your way."

"And yours, Ser Rylock," Duncan answered with a bow of his own. The two of them galloped away bearing both the vial and the bloody cloth. He was pleased to note that the vial's glow did not abate as they moved away from the mage's location, thanks to the proximity of the blood on the sleeve. He wondered how long it would be until the templars noticed that problem and got rid of the rag. Even then, they would assume that any residual glow was due to the cloth and not the mage, until they were far away. It could be days before they gave up searching east and turned west again.

Duncan allowed himself a moment of disdain for their arrogant confidence in their advantage over the mage, when they had no real understanding of how that advantage worked.

"Here," he said softly, dropping some dried meat and bread into the hidden nook where the mage was softly chuckling. "Don't come out of hiding until well after full dark."

It was nearly two hours before the mage joined him in the cave. Duncan found he could no longer think of him as "lad" or "young man." The years had aged him, brought a certain sharpness to his features and smile-lines to the corners of his eyes that showed whenever he grinned. His hair was pulled back in a queue similar to Duncan's own, and he bore himself with a maturity that somehow did nothing to diminish his quick wit and easy humor. But there was also something a bit harder and more bitter about him, something that suggested that some of what had happened in the course of those years was not pleasant.

"How many escape attempts is this now?" Duncan asked as the mage ducked into the cave, where Duncan sat beside the small fire he'd built after ensuring there was adequate ventilation.

"This is my..." He blinked as he did a quick mental calculation. "Sixth. Thank you for hiding me and sending them off in the other direction. You didn't have to do that."

Duncan said nothing, and the mage paced a little, as if uneasy or unsure what to do with his gratitude.

"So, a Grey Warden. And Duncan's the name, eh?" he said after a moment of silence. "I'd always wondered."

"You could have asked. It seemed like you enjoyed not knowing,"

Duncan knew he shouldn't be so tense, so full of expectation, remembering the last time he'd encountered this mage. He was too alone, and skating too close to the edge of desperation as the dual prospects of the Blight and his Calling loomed. He had so little time left, and so many obligations to meet. The mage was someone with whom he could share a fleeting moment of pleasure and then never see again, never worry about again.

All Duncan had to know is whether or not the mage was still willing.

"Well, yeah," the mage shrugged with an unapologetic grin. "I admit, there was a certain dangerous appeal to it all. Dark, mysterious stranger, there one night and—theoretically, at least—never seen again. Pity. That memory got me through a great many nights in solitary confinement."

"I still don't know your name," Duncan pointed out, rising as the mage approached.

"You never asked, either. But that's easy enough to—" the mage began, but Duncan was already in motion, pushing the mage by his shoulders against the wall of the cave.

"I don't want to know," Duncan said gruffly, and kissed the mage to stop that incessantly running mouth before it could ruin the mystique. Knowing the mage's name would be a burden; it would make him a someone Duncan would always have to wonder about, and Duncan didn't want that.

All he wanted was the night and the memory.

This time, the advantage was on Duncan's side. The mage couldn't use his magic with the templars so near. And Duncan had no interest in being passive this time around.

Neither, it seemed, did the mage, which lent them both a frantic sense of urgency as they strained together, grinding against each other as eager hands tugged at recalcitrant clothing. Duncan thrust his hand abruptly into the mage's—no doubt stolen—breeches and gripped him firmly, pumping insistently as the mage moaned and let his head fall back against the stone wall.

And through it all, the mage's never-ending commentary ran, faltering and growing breathier with each pull of Duncan's hand.

"Andraste's knickers!" he panted, his hips thrusting enthusiastically in time to Duncan's strokes. He made a strangled sound as Duncan's palm stroked over the head of his shaft, spreading the moisture there before sliding back down. From the way he was already swelling and getting harder in Duncan's hand, Duncan didn't think he'd last long. "I don't... remember... you being quite so... demanding last time."

"You caught me by surprise last time." Duncan used the bulk of his own body to keep the mage pinned against the wall. Stroking... stroking... The mage's breath was coming in ragged pants and gasps.

"I usually... only let the templars... unh!... push me around... like this."

"Your repeated escape attempts begin to make a new kind of sense."

"Of course... just like with them... I can't... use my magic here."

"You're welcome to try."

"You're just saying that... because you know I... can't. If I could..."

"You still wouldn't get to have your own way, tonight."

"Hah! That confident... of your abilities... are you?"

"I can stop, if my abilities aren't up to your standards."

"Umf!... Perish the thought!"

"Then. shut. up."

Much to Duncan's surprise, the mage did so, pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes as he leaned weakly against the wall. Soon the only sounds in the cave were the crackling of the fire and his groans.

"If you don't mind," he gasped after a few silent moments, "these are my only... sodding... breeches."

With a growl, Duncan jerked the mage's breeches down his slender hips and sank to his knees, in the process discovering it wasn't only the mage's mouth one could keep occupied to ensure his silence.

When it was over and his release had washed across Duncan's tongue, the mage slid weakly down the wall to sit, panting, in front of Duncan. His eyes were glazed and his mouth soft and relaxed. Slowly, as his breathing eased, his gaze flicked to the earring in Duncan's right ear and then to its match in his left.

"Hm. I think I might have to get myself one of those. It might just complete my disreputable image at the tower. Because, of course, the fact that everyone has seen me dragged back in chains time and again hasn't quite managed the trick."

Duncan hesitated a moment. He'd had the earrings so long he no longer thought of them, or the image they conveyed. Did they make him look disreputable? Had they ever done so? Mostly these days, he just felt old and grave and far too short of time. These last few moments with the mage, driving him beyond control and the ability to sass back, were the most invigorated he'd felt in years.

Impulsively, he removed his left earring and pressed it into the mage's hand. "In case you get caught again before you get around to buying one."

The mage stared at it a moment, as though trying to decide what it meant. Duncan really couldn't even say himself why he had done it. It wasn't a lovers' token; three chance encounters gave them no claim to that sort of intimacy, even if Duncan had wanted such a thing. No, he realized, it was more a matter of wanting to leave something behind; an artifact, a memory of himself that wasn't tied to his being a Grey Warden and the fate that would entail for him.

Clearly deciding not to make anything of it that might prove awkward, the mage grinned. "Help me put it in?"

Thus Duncan found himself digging through his packs for the needles he kept to mend his clothing while he traveled, while the mage undressed and sat upon the bedroll. He was uncharacteristically quiet, as Duncan laid the leather packet of needles, and also the oil he used to polish his weapons, on the ground next to the mage. Then Duncan stripped as well.

The distraction of the earring had done nothing to dampen his arousal. He was still hard and ready, and truth be told excited even further by the prospect of causing the mage pain, if only a twinge. Duncan knelt beside the mage and grabbed one of the needles, holding it in the flames of the fire.

"If I could use my magic right now," the mage muttered. "I could numb my earlobe."

Duncan stared at him a moment, his voice husky as he asked, "And where would the fun in that be?"

The mage shuddered a little, but his eyes darkened a bit. "Oh, is that how it is?"

Duncan withdrew the needle from the fire as it grew hot. "Apparently."

The mage released a slow breath, and tipped his head to the side, presenting Duncan with his right earlobe. "All right, then."

Thrusting the needle through the soft tissue of the mage's earlobe was strangely suggestive, especially when accompanied by a hiss of pain. Duncan withdrew the needle and threaded the hoop through, drawing another pained sound, and once it was secure, he leaned forward and carefully caught the flesh of the mage's earlobe between his teeth and tugged gently.

The way the mage's body tightened and writhed, caught between wanting to get away from the ache and not daring to move lest it increase, made the pressure in Duncan's cock surge. He wanted more of those pained hisses, those helpless moans and involuntarily movements. When he released the mage's ear, the mage turned his head, seeking Duncan's mouth hungrily. Duncan pressed him down onto the bedroll on his back and kissed the mage as though he would devour him.

Time and again, Duncan returned to torment the earlobe that he knew from memory felt fevered and throbbed and ached. Or he caught the mage's small, hard nipples between his fingertips and pinched until he begged for mercy. He pushed his erection along the mage's stomach as the mage struggled and writhed, until it wasn't only the mage who was tormented.

When Duncan withdrew and took up the flask of oil, the mage lifted his legs willingly. His hands were beginning to shake with need as he pressed one oiled finger inside that tight, clenching passage, and then soon thereafter a second one. The mage's eyes were closed, his neck extended as he tipped his head back and forced himself to relax, moaning softly when Duncan's fingers lightly pressed up against the hard bump inside him that made his entire body stir.

Duncan withdrew his fingers to add more oil when the mage caught his hand.

"Don't make it too easy."

Another shudder of need ran through Duncan's body, and he nodded and oiled his shaft instead.

Tight, so agonizingly tight, pushing slowly inside the mage. Duncan took his time with it, less for the sake of letting the mage adjust than to draw out that moment of entry when it wasn't pleasure for the mage yet. Duncan drank in the hisses, the curses, the distressed moans, while that heat engulfed him inch by slow, aching inch. Only when he was fully seated, his hips pressed tightly against the mage's flanks, did Duncan relent. Just for a moment, as he lightly worried the mage's newly pierced earlobe with his teeth.

"Next time we meet, remind me to electrocute you," the mage said, his voice low and gravelly.

Duncan discovered a third way to shut him up. He withdrew and pushed in again. Harder, faster. The mage's back arched, his head snapped back. He thrust his fists against Duncan's chest as though he would push Duncan away, and then subsided with a tremor.

Gradually, the mage's body loosened, gripping Duncan's cock a little less tightly as he moved. Slowly, Duncan began to set a rhythm, as the sounds the mage made began to shift from discomfort to pleasure. And as his speed and rhythm built, he began caring a bit less just what the nature of the sounds the mage made was—distress or enjoyment—so long as he kept making them. His arms curled under the mage's, his hands gripping the mage's shoulders to keep him from moving away as Duncan surged into him, over and over, losing himself in that incredible pressure and heat.

His release burst upon him like the roar of the archdemon awakening, drawing a harsh cry from him that echoed off the walls of the cave. In the warmth of the fire, both their bodies were flushed and slick with sweat, and Duncan drew in great, ragged breaths as his mind swam free of the delirious rush of pleasure.

He only had a moment to enjoy that aftermath before cool energy pulsed through his body, and the mage's as well, bringing them both to full arousal in just a few seconds, so quickly it was almost painful for Duncan.

Duncan bit back a protest, forced himself not to point out the obvious; that if the templars were still nearby, he had just given away his presence in the area. And for once, the mage said nothing, but as he seized his own erection and began to stroke it, his message was clear.

Don't stop.

Rearing back and thrusting hard, Duncan didn't.

He was going to Orzammar, the mage declared as they dressed and prepared to sleep. There, with no Chantry to dog his steps, he could lay low for a couple of years, until the hunt had been called off, and then make his way to other lands where the Chantry didn't have so tight a grip. He had thought to confuse the templars by heading south and taking the long way around Lake Calenhad to Orzammar, rather than the more direct northern route.

"Of course, if what you say is true about the templar tournament, that plan is scrapped."

"Not necessarily," Duncan shrugged. "Seems to me among a mob of templars is the last place anyone would think to look for you."

They parted ways in the morning, for the mage didn't want Duncan to be seen with him if he were to be caught. Duncan continued on to Redcliffe, and to the monastery that rested in the hills between Redcliffe and Rainesfere. There, a market had spread out to cater to the throngs of people who had come to attend the tourney. Duncan wondered if he'd catch a glimpse of his mage in the crowd.

It was midday on the second day of the tournament when gossip began to filter through the spectators. The templars had arrested an apostate right there at the tourney. Sometime later, there was a surge of activity and a press in the congregated masses. A path through the crowd opened and Duncan saw him, his wrists in rune-marked shackles, escorted by two anonymous, helmeted templars. His eyes flicked to Duncan briefly and then he jerked out of his captors' grasp and executed an exaggerated bow to the crowd.

"See you next time!" he declared flamboyantly, as though to the entire mass of people. But his eyes were on Duncan, and he winked, the earring in his right ear glittering in the spring sunlight.

One of the templars cuffed him with a steel gauntlet, driving the mage to his knees.

Ser Rylock's voice was tinny within her helm. "We'll see how confident you are, Anders, after you've spent a year in isolation!"

Duncan thought he saw something bleak and bitter in the mage's eyes as he was dragged away.

Anders. His name was Anders.

Duncan wished he didn't know.

Duncan knew he should have conscripted his mage, but he couldn't bear to force Anders out of one form of confinement and into another. Perhaps if he could get free a seventh time, Anders could remain free and finally make good his escape. Duncan felt he owed him that chance.

Still, he was left with the discontented feeling that he'd failed in his duty by not securing such a promising recruit. But he had a chance to make it up to himself and the Grey Wardens at the end of the tournament, when he conscripted a young templar initiate. He told himself it was because of his duty, and not because the lad had a ready grin and an irrepressible streak of puckish humor, or that he was just as trapped by the Chantry as any mage.

But when Duncan tugged at his unadorned earlobe and thought of his mage, whom he would never see again, he knew he lied.