Of course he's a mage.

There's a certain inevitability to it. A sense of fate playing itself out, using us as pawns. It seems my life is to be ever intertwined with mages. My father, my sister, and now him.

Well, fuck fate. I choose my own damned destiny.

Still, his plight is compelling. And mad. He's the tragic victim of his own kindness and noble intentions.

It's not that I don't sympathize with his cause. Of course I do. How could I not? My father saw the abuses within the Circle, the danger of such extreme imbalance and polarity, of giving one group of people life and death authority—backed by divine approval, no less—over another group. He fled them, seeking refuge with the Mages' Collective and their self-policing ways. And then along came my little sister, with her astonishing propensity for big, booming fireballs.

When it became obvious which path my sister's power was taking—so different from his own gentle healing—Father drew me aside one day, away from the never-ending tending of the fields on the small, obscure freehold we sharecropped. That was near Highever, before we moved to West Hill... and then to Redcliffe... and then to Lothering.

"You're going to learn to be a templar," he informed me, no room for compromise in his voice.

"Maker's breath, why?" Astonished, I blinked at him. We'd spent our lives trying to avoid the templars. Why would he make me one of them?

"For the sake of your mother and brother. If the worst should happen to Bethany... or, for that matter, to me."

So I learned to be a templar.

"Why?" he asks when he's done being furious with me for accepting the burden my father laid upon my shoulders.

"I was to be their fail-safe," I answer simply, taking a deep draught of wine from my goblet.

He has no argument for that. Even in his fury, in indignation both righteous and mad, he understands.

"If only the Chantry had your father's wisdom," he sighs after a moment, accepting his own wine.

If only indeed. My father trained me not to have power over himself and my sister, but to work beside them, to warn them of pitfalls they might not see.

And to stop them, if the unthinkable were to occur. An act of mercy. An act of love.

Since I was twelve, I've understood that one day, my hands might be the ones which delivered death to someone I loved.

I was never meant to be their jailer. A partner, and a confidante. Perhaps even a shepherd, and a loving one at that—although the power dynamics inherent in such a comparison aren't quite accurate, either—kindly, but firmly, correcting their course when they began to drift off the proper path, blind to the dangers.

Anders, at least, understands that much—though it took him nearly three years to come to terms with it and stop seeing me as the enemy. He just doesn't understand how I can say I want mages to be free, while still trying to maintain the balance, weighing their freedom against the danger they pose if left unchecked.

I thought it would be enough for him. That my love and my willingness to speak truth to him even when truth isn't what he wants to hear would keep him grounded, keep him on his path. The way my father always meant it to be. But instead, with each passing month, he moves further and further toward the pole, driven by the uncompromising force within him.

I'm trying to hold up the middle alone, and I'm no longer certain I'm strong enough for it.

And so I find myself praying instead.

Please. Please, love, don't go too far. Don't make me do what my father taught me I must.

Everyone wants me to choose sides, and I can't. If I did so, if I tipped the balance, I'd be failing my duty, the charge my father laid upon me when I was barely old enough to hold a sword. Love, and balance. That was how he envisioned it, between templar and mage. But I don't think Father ever meant it to be like this.

He didn't foresee Anders. He couldn't possibly have comprehended the glory and despair of loving a tormented man.

And yes, for all our fighting with one another—his endless ranting, and my unyielding, uncompromising attempts at reasoning with him—it is glorious.

I'm not always a gentle man he warned me, and he was right. I wouldn't have it any other way.

"I'll never understand how such a mighty warrior, the Champion of Kirkwall, capable of facing down ogres and qunari and Maker knows what all, can be such a pussycat in the bedroom," he teases, lifting his mouth from me. His full bottom lip is wet and gleaming, swollen from sucking on me, and the tip of his tongue darts out to swipe the corner of his mouth clean.

He gives me one of his increasingly rare smiles, that sweet and ironic grin. Then the smile fades and his power begins to sizzle through me, making my spine arch and my muscles go rigid. He moves up my body and I eagerly lift my knees to my chest as he drives into me.

Even more glorious, afterward, when I curl against him and feel his arms around me, the loving stroke of his hands on my sweaty skin.

"Did I hurt you?" he asks, and healing energy begins to warm his fingertips.

Yes, every day, as I see you drift closer to the void.

"No," I murmur, and dispel it.

I cherish the ache almost as much as I cherish the tenderness afterward.

I never wanted this.

Every day for three years, I've trod a careful line. Tried not to pick sides, tried to appease, to appeal, to find the middle ground and keep the peace. Tried to uphold the balance my father dreamt could exist between templar and mage.

I never wanted to be wealthy. Never wanted to be Champion. All I ever wanted to do was take care of those I loved.

And look where it's gotten me. Brother, sister, mother: all gone. I'm alone in the world, except for him.

He's all I have left.

He sits before me, his neck bared for my blade, remanding himself without question to my judgment. Around us, the city burns and the war I have fought to avoid has begun. The tenuous balance is shattered.

I clutch my sword. Maker help me, I don't know what I could have done differently to prevent this. I refused to help him when I feared he was going too far, when I realized he had lied to me. If I hadn't refused, would it had been enough for him? Was that show of my faith in him what he needed, to change his course?

I don't know anymore. I don't know anything, anymore.

And now I've done what I've fought so hard not to do. I've chosen sides. His side, ironically enough. Because I can't allow others to be slaughtered for his crime.

My duty is clear. This is the necessity my father foresaw that day when I was twelve. I should have done it long ago, after he nearly killed that mage, before it ever got to this point.

My sword clatters to the ground. Consternation ripples through our friends and allies.

I'm sorry, Father. I can't.

I'm not a hero, whatever titles they bestow upon me. I'm not a noble man. I've tried to live my life in the middle, guided by simple common sense, not polarizing ideals of one absolute Right or Wrong.

I've never wanted anything more than a place to call home and to take care of my family.

The rest of them are gone. But Anders... for better or worse, him, I still have.

Maybe Father was naïve. Maybe I have been, as well. Maybe balance is actually the grand, unachievable ideal. Maybe there is no middle ground.

It's wrong of me. Selfish. Father would be ashamed, for I've failed to uphold the duty with which he charged me. It's a failure for which I will question myself, every day for the rest of my life.

But I can't. I can't lose him, too. He's all I have left.

Right or wrong, I'll stand beside him.