Ephemera: Chapter 9

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It was a good idea, Karl’s plan. It was such a good idea… and yet Anders struggled to get a hold on his nerves, even as he floated back to his dorm on the euphoria of knowing it was going to happen.

He didn’t know why he should be nervous. He wanted it. Wanted Karl, and wanted to— well, do that. He was, he thought, extremely well-versed in the lead-up to it, and he knew pretty much all there was to know about the act itself… in theory. It just so happened that theory was all he had to go on, and it wasn’t as if that was a crime.

Well, all right. Maybe theory and some very intense study of the more lurid books the library had to offer. All the students knew where to find those, whether it was the naked witch woodcuts in the history of Chasind tribal wars, or the shadier titles that masqueraded as tales of Orlesian courtly romances, and had probably been left behind years ago, when First Enchanter Remille was still top dog in the Tower.

Anders quite liked the Orlesian smut. There was usually at least one good battle scene, and a lot of poetic language that made for very vivid pictures, though he wasn’t terribly sure most of that imagery would translate to him and Karl. Maybe they’d have to make their own.

That thought warmed him, even as it reminded him of his own inexperience. Oh, there had been plenty of times he could have fooled around before—well, maybe a few—and he almost wished he had. It would have made this less scary, less momentous… but it wouldn’t have been the same, he knew.

Anders was aware that he wanted something different to a quick grope and a fumble in a storage closet, or a hasty wank in some dark corridor. He wanted to lose that heavy, aching chain around his neck—that burden of virginity—and yet know that the one he was giving it to wouldn’t turn the gift aside, or laugh at him. He wanted it, Anders realised, to be right… and that was an even more terrifying thought

That was what Karl had meant by all the waiting, he figured. He wanted to make the first time they did anything something real, something permanent, after which they’d never be the same. Well… Anders wouldn’t, anyway. He knew Karl had more experience than him, but he had no idea how far that extended to actual sex, in terms of insertion of things in… bits.

Anders had a very detailed idea of how that was meant to happen, but he’d never had anyone to try it out with before. His past experiences, all too often, had involved trying very hard not to attract the attention of older boys—who tended to be a little too given to cruelty—and, when he’d attempted to press his luck with girls around his own age, they usually either pulled bored faces or ran away.

He knew what he wanted, though. What he wanted to try. It was possible—there was a great deal of description of it in some of the racier Orlesian stuff—and he trusted Karl. Because it was all different here, wasn’t it?

This was different. This was Ferelden, and Karl wasn’t like anyone else. He was warm, and safe, and comforting… and being with him felt right.

They’d worked out when it would be: two days’ time, when Karl could get out of his class, with Maya’s help, and said class would coincide with one of Anders’ free periods, his schedule not yet quite as full as the seniors’ tended to be. It was all very technical, like planning some kind of military operation, but it made him realise how much Karl actually did—all those lessons, all those preparations—and that scared Anders.

He can’t be that far off his Harrowing, can he?

He didn’t want to think about it, much in the same way as he didn’t want to think about his own Harrowing… or any of those dark, jagged things that loomed up in the future.

So, instead, he cadged, borrowed, traded and, in one case, stole, in order to have a suitably tempting bundle of cakes and little marchpane delicacies with which to bribe Elric into swearing blind that—for the entirety of the afternoon in question—they would be studying together in the library. Combined with a similar payment to another of the boys to swear that Anders had also been with him in the lower fourth potions laboratory, he felt it should be enough to cover any eventuality.

Elric, of course, had inconvenient questions.

“But why?” the boy asked, his thin little hands already stuffing the goodies protectively into the folds of his robes. “I mean, if it’s important, I’ll do it, but why would—”

Anders sighed. His bunkmate wasn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the kitchen… which was just as well, really, in the current circumstances.

“Because I’m going to be somewhere else,” he said quietly, glancing across the mostly empty dormitory.

Virtually everyone was still at breakfast, or morning chapel, but Elric had slept late, and Anders hadn’t much stomach for oatmeal. Even so, you never knew how whispers carried in the wide, stone halls, and it was always possible someone would overhear.

He hated that. Hated all the secrets and the sneaking around, like it was something to be ashamed of. It wasn’t. It… well, it did make it a little bit fun, perhaps, Anders had to admit. Bartering and stealing time, and this great, criminal plan of theirs—moving mountains and grafting favours, just for a few hours alone. An element of it appealed to some sense of romance, or possibly melodrama, that he’d never really allowed himself to admit he possessed.

Elric stared blankly at him, big blue eyes wide and that small, freckled face screwed into a look of total incomprehension. The tarnished strawberry gold of his hair fell in one uncombed hank over his forehead, and he twitched it away absently.

“Why? Where are you—”

Anders shook his head. “I’m not going to tell you. That way, if anyone does find out, you won’t know, so you can’t grass. Not that I think you would,” he added hurriedly, as the huge blue eyes widened even further, and Elric looked in danger of protesting, or possibly crying. “It’s just… safer. I’m not doing anything wrong, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

Elric gave him a studied, suspicious look, and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “You’re going to be with a girl, aren’t you?”

Anders chuckled, the laughter breaking from him before he had a chance to stop it. “No,” he said, shaking his head solemnly. “I’m not. Honest.”

“Oh.”

Elric looked up at him thoughtfully, one hand still resting on the bundle concealed beneath his robe. After a moment, a smile spread across his face, at first tentative and then bolder, opening like the wings of some great white bird.

“All right. I won’t say anything, anyway. I know I haven’t been here long… but you’ve always been nice to me, Anders. That means a lot.”

Anders stared as colour washed over the boy’s cheeks and, with an awkward little scrabble that was a sort of cross between a half-bobbed bow and a nervous, one-footed hop, Elric tore his gaze away and dashed off to secrete the bribery deep in his footlocker.

Huh. That was weird.

The time drifted by in claggy, stultifying moments, sticking to everything like wet sand. Anders didn’t see Karl all the next day, and he was meant to be catching up on the papers he hadn’t written, in addition to the new work the enchanters were setting. He struggled to concentrate, of course, and one particular class about the principles of magical creation was totally lost on him.

The lesson was being taught by Enchanter Aenira, a young, slightly built blonde elf who would, if she hadn’t vaguely resembled some kind of nervously trembling whippet, have been very pretty.

She talked a lot about healing magic, and the necessary balance and steady psychic centre that was required to facilitate the flow of mana into the form of creation, and it seemed odd to Anders that anyone that apparently jumpy could possibly say those things. At one point, she started asking the class questions and—when she pointed the chalk at him and asked, in that delicately querulous tone—what he thought the three main strengths of a healer should be, Anders could feel the puzzled grimace settling over his face.

“A-all right, then,” the enchanter said, changing tack. “What is the single most important thing you think one w-would have to know? Just the one?”

Anders shifted uncomfortably in his seat, horribly aware of the other apprentices’ gazes coming to rest on him.

“Uh…. I, um—” He started to speak, squeaked a bit, then coughed and tried again. “I suppose you’d have to know how to put all the bits back together, wouldn’t you? Like… how a broken bone’s meant to look, if it’s not… um… b-broken….”

He knew he’d said the wrong thing by the way her expression stiffened, and then her mouth turned slack, and she was shuffling papers around again, her hand fluttering like bedazzled moths at a candle.

“No, n-no, not at all, not at all. Healing… everybody, quieten down, please… healing magic is not— it is not a forceful thing. There are limits, you know. Limits to what can be achieved with magic. Let’s turn again to Felester’s Principles, Chapter Four: ‘On the Diverse Subtleties of Magic’.”

The susurration of muffled laughter at his expense did not escape Anders’ notice, and he slumped gracelessly in front of his book, idly digging his thumbnail into the wood of the desk.

Stupid healing. Stupid magic. Stupid everything.

But it’s what they do, isn’t it? Lock us up and tell us it’s for our own good, because we’re too dangerous to be free… and then make us deny the true extent of our own power.

It was true, he thought. Hard to tell whether it was the templars’ doing—making them believe they weren’t strong enough to fight back, just in case they were ever tempted—or the mages themselves, because the easiest way to deal with being caged is to pretend it doesn’t matter.

They were supposed to be taking notes. Anders picked up his pen and diligently inscribed a small drawing of a thunderstorm in the margin of his copybook, complete with lightning splitting a barn in two, and a little stick figure mage dancing in the midst of the chaos.

Knickers to everything.

~o~O~o~

The anticipation was agonising. Well… it had been agonising for some time, but now it was condensed, honed down into a blade of waiting that seemed impossible not to cut himself against.

Karl knew he was milling around the place in a daze, smiling at nothing and looking like a complete idiot. Largely, he knew because Maya had taken the time to tell him—smirking all the while, naturally—but he could feel it, too. He wondered if Anders felt the same way, all that tension and hope bundled up into blocks of expectation and desire. He hoped so.

“Have fun,” Maya whispered to him, her eyes glittering with mirth as they met in the corridor for the templars’ headcount prior to second classes.

Karl tried to restrain his grin, failed miserably, and didn’t care.

It wasn’t too hard to slip away from the group he should have been in as they headed off for Enchanter Grade’s class, only accompanied part of the way, and he cut back to the dorm. The chamber was almost empty, so Karl took the opportunity of grabbing a pair of spare blankets from his footlocker, and wadding them up under his arm before making his way as nonchalantly as possible up towards the supply room.

His heart felt like it hit his slippers as he saw Ser Rylock coming down the corridor ahead of him. There was nowhere to turn off, no alcove to dive into… Karl had no choice but to square his shoulders and keep going. He wasn’t sure if she’d noticed him or not. Anders said the woman was a sour cow, but she certainly seemed dedicated to her duty. In the times Karl had seen her about the Tower, he sometimes wondered whether she really noticed the mages—and what it was that occupied her thoughts so, or that kept her here, instead of in Denerim. He’d thought her detachment was only meant to be at the Circle temporarily, but they’d shown no signs of leaving.

She was closer now, the pair of them drawing up on each other from opposite ends of the curved hallway, her armour clinking gently as she strode over the stones, his robes swishing softly. Karl’s palm seemed to grow damp against the blankets he clutched to his hip, and he was assailed by sudden doubt. Should he nod to her and wish her good day? It was polite, and a lack of manners might earn him her notice but, if he didn’t say anything, would she still notice him anyway?

He watched her nervously from the corner of his eye, torn between trying to pretend that, somehow, he’d not seen her there, and trying to look as innocent as he could.

The cool, precise sound of metal moving made him wince as the templar slowed her steps. Karl squinted at her, and found himself looking directly into that taut, angular face.

“Er… good day, ser?”

“What are you doing with those?” she asked, nodding at the blankets.

“Just off to the laundry, ser.” Karl swallowed heavily, amazed at the words that tumbled from his mouth. “One of the younger boys had an accident, and he was too ashamed to say. I said I’d take care of it before I go to class. ‘He who has compassion for the weak, shall turn his sight to them, as we would wish the Maker forgive our follies.’”

Rylock’s lips thinned, but she nodded curtly. “Hmm. Someone’s been studying his Chant. All right. But don’t make a habit of it. Even the weak have to learn… even if it’s only how to use soap.”

Karl was about to mumble a ‘yes, ser, thank you, ser’ when he could have sworn he saw the woman smile.

It was over quickly, but it was like a shaft of light in a dusty room. He gulped, bleated out an assurance that he would be quick, and heaved an inward sigh of relief as she dismissed him.

Maker’s balls! I just hope he appreciates this….

Karl slipped up to their little eyrie and spent a few minutes sweeping the boards clear of as much dust as he could, and spreading out the blankets. It wasn’t much, but it made the supply room look more comfortable… made it look like theirs, even if it was just for a little while.

Bright, clean light poured through the window, touching every part of the chamber and making it look so very different, as if even the cobwebs high in the ceiling were threads of golden silk. Karl smiled, thinking it strange how much something as mundane as the time of day could change so much.

He took a deep breath, catching his own fresh-washed scent, and the faintly astringent smell of the soap with which he had so laboriously scrubbed that morning. His smile widened and, surveying his handiwork, he decided that this was probably as good as it was going to get.

All that was left was to wait.

Karl slipped from the chamber to do that, just in case he needed to run. He was sure that, if these corridors went unused in the late afternoons and evenings, nobody would come snooping about up here at this time of day, but he didn’t want to risk the possibility of being surprised. He waited in the shadowy, blurred greyness of the small landing, listening intently for Anders’ arrival, tapping the heel of his leather slipper softly and impatiently against the stones.

The waiting seemed to take forever, but then it had been that way for a while. Karl entertained himself by allowing his fantasies to run unchecked behind his eyes, and he took to quietly building a chrysanthemum in the palm of his hand, petal by petal. Magic crackled in its growing outline, a gentle shimmer of sparks and waves that nestled warmly against his skin.

Somewhere, a door creaked. Karl’s chest tightened and, finger poised over the mana flower, he held his breath. Then, uncertain footsteps scuffled in the corridor below, and he grinned to himself.

Karl waved his hand over the flower, murmuring a soft incantation that brought it to full life, blooming from his palm and shimmering. Carefully, he lowered his hand and held it behind his back, then leaned casually against the wall as he waited for Anders to make it up the stairs.

He looked wonderful, of course. Freshly laundered robes, pink-scrubbed skin, hair slicked back and his face twisted around a breathless little wrinkle of nervous anticipation. He was slightly out of breath and, as he reached the top of the stairs and smiled awkwardly at Karl, he scrubbed his palm against his robes.

“Hello.”

A ribbon of desire and affection wound itself around Karl’s heart and squeezed, and he found his mouth dry as he tried to frame a reply. He just grinned and brought the mana flower out from behind his back, holding it out to Anders on his outstretched palm.

“For me?”

He looked so surprised. Karl laughed softly and, flicking his wrist as if he was tossing a ball, sent the flower up into the air, spiralling and spinning into a million tiny stars that misted around Anders, clinging to his face, neck, and chest and glimmering brightly for a moment before they vanished.

“Yes, for you,” he said, as Anders gasped at the feel of those warm, intimate breaths of magic—a charm made for someone special, like numberless kisses bursting at once against the skin, and against the mana in a mage’s blood.

Anders beamed happily, and followed him into the supply room.

Once they were inside, the door shut and a crate pushed across it—mainly for the sake of paranoia—that bright smile started to falter. Karl slid close behind him, arms slipping around his waist, and bent his head, pressing his mouth to the back of one tense shoulder. Anders’ robes smelled of laundry soap, and the rough warmth of the fabric’s threads seemed to score a pattern into Karl’s lips. He breathed deeply, taking in every trace of his scent, his nearness… and he felt Anders’ chest swell in response, expanding in his grasp as he took his own long, heavy breath. His hair, bound back in its customary ponytail with the odd few strands escaping, tickled Karl’s cheek and, as Anders finally exhaled, the sound of his breathing seemed shaky and tremulous.

Karl raised his head a little, face near enough to skim the soft, unblemished curve of that long, pale neck. He kissed it gently—that small, hollowed plane, about an inch below Anders’ left ear—and felt the tension first bunch, then begin to seep from the lanky frame in his arms. His hair smelled of thyme and balsam, and the very ends of the ponytail were damp, presumably from a late morning bath. Karl smiled at the thought of it… at both of them, in their own ways, working so hard at being ready for the other.

“You sure about this?” he murmured.

Anders nodded fervently and wriggled, turning in Karl’s embrace to plant a warm, eager kiss on his mouth… one that almost disguised all that incipient nervousness.

“I want to,” he whispered, in a tense little breath that tasted of cardamom and peppermint—most likely whipped from the potions laboratory, Karl thought with amusement—and felt like a thread of fire.

Karl raised his hand and, very gently, trailed his fingertips down Anders’ cheek. “Me too,” he murmured. “But it’s your pace, all right? Slow as you like. We don’t have to rush anyth—”

“Don’t want slow,” Anders protested, lips butting against his once more, this time in a soft, insistent, open-mouthed bite of desire. “I wanna… y’know….”

Karl suppressed a small groan as that long, lean body pressed even closer to him, full of searing warmth that felt as if it should have burned away the inconveniences of their clothes.

Anders kissed him again, and with more strength and intensity than he’d expected. It didn’t stop, either. There was a yielding, supple rhythm of lips and wandering, curious hands that was extremely difficult to resist, and then those soft little breaths that broke against Karl’s mouth… and broke him in the process, somehow, snapping him to pieces with every sweet little whimper that Anders made. He knew he was lost when he cupped his hands to Anders’ face, fingers skimming the hardness of cheekbones and jaw, and just touching him made it all so much more complicated.

“Don’t stop,” Anders murmured plaintively, as Karl tried to pull away. “C’mere… come on….”

Maker, he didn’t know what he did with those words, or with that look on his face…! Karl swallowed heavily, desire and heat balled on the back of his tongue. Anders squirmed against him, begging without words, and he knew that it would only take one more kiss. One more touch, and Karl wouldn’t be able to stop.

Breathing heavily, he grabbed Anders’ hand and dragged him across to the blankets. They were spread out beneath the window and, with the sun toiling steadily across the sky, a patch of gold had shifted to warm the centre of the drab brown wool. Anders smiled appreciatively at the artful arrangement, and squeezed Karl’s fingers.

“S’nice,” he said, glancing from the blankets to the crates piled around them like the walls of some wooden fort… and then to the window, and the slice of blue sky beyond it, where his gaze seemed to grow fixed and distant.

Karl tugged on his hand, and started to draw him down onto the blanket. Anders blinked at him for a moment before he complied, but then he grinned… and pounced. In one colossal collapse of knees and elbows, they were tangled up in each other, snorting with laughter, and it was a good few minutes before the rumpled kisses and exploratory touching turned serious.

Karl bit his lip, willing himself not to thrust against the welcome pressure as Anders’ hand rubbed tentatively at the front of his robes.

“Maker, that feels big….”

They were sprawled across the blanket, Anders’ right leg between his, and Karl’s left arm trapped under that lean body. The sun was in Karl’s eyes and he squinted as, voice burred a bit by the eagerness of lust, he nipped another kiss at those temptingly reddened lips.

“D’you want to see?”

Flush-cheeked and smiling breathlessly, Anders gave a damp little cough of laughter, even as his body flexed against Karl’s.

“Do you want to see mine?”

Karl ran a hand up Anders’ arm, tracing the subtle swirls on the smooth fabric of his robes. Those dark eyes met his like wide pools of excitement, flecked with splinters of golden brown.

“I want to see all of you,” he said softly.

Anders swallowed heavily, throat bobbing, and then nodded. “A-all right.”

His hands immediately went to the neck of his robes, but Karl reached up and stopped him with a light shake of his head.

“Uh-uh. Slowly.”

He pushed himself up on his free arm and, pressing another kiss to that delectable pout, started to unfasten the laces of Anders’ collar himself. Every brush of his fingers against that pale throat dredged up a small moan or a lustful shiver, and Karl relished each one… although he quickly realised that this hadn’t been a brilliant idea.

There were altogether too many laces, he decided. Too many fastenings, too much fabric, too much fuss. He took it slowly, nonetheless, or as slowly as they could afford to, when every second was stolen to start with.

Positions shifted, bodies wriggled impatiently, and mouths still gnawed at each other in constant, ceaseless hunger. His hands shook a little as he guided Anders through the delicate ballet of it all, and Karl supposed he should be grateful that apprentices’ robes were simpler than the various belted houppelandes, sashes, capelets, and other esoteric garb frequently worn by the enchanters.

After a little subtle prompting, Anders started to return the favour, and his fingers tugged impatiently at Karl’s robes, fumbling with the thick laces and small round buttons.

It was clumsy, and frustrating, and punctuated with a great deal of gasping and kissing… and it was wonderful. It felt like something special, something almost holy. Undressing each other, exposing each new glimpse of skin—each new promise and gift of trust—carried a certain weight when they spent so much of their lives swaddled up from chin to toe. The Chantry never went quite as far as to say flesh was sin, but life in the Circle tended to shun anything too corporeal. Their bodies were vessels, the way the enchanters taught it, and of less importance than their minds and spirits.

That, of course, neglected some pretty basic truths about bodies. Anders appeared to encounter one when, laces loosened and his upper chest bared, Karl dipped his head and ran his tongue along the scoop of one collarbone, ending at the base of Anders’ throat, where he bit a slow and methodical hickey.

It dragged a rough, surprised, delightful little gasp from Anders, and his fingers left off Karl’s robes and knotted themselves in his hair.

“Ooh, Andraste’s flaming… knicker-weasels,” Anders muttered, the words buzzing low in his throat.

Karl spluttered and broke away from the salty, soapy sweetness of his skin with a disbelieving snort of laughter.

“Wh…? What did you say? Andraste’s flaming… what?”

Anders looked embarrassed. Pink, ruffled, and utterly gorgeous.

“’cker-weasels,” he mumbled. “I… just picked it up, I s’pose. My mother used to say it when she was trying not to swear. Sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

“It’s fine.”

It was more than fine. Karl leaned in and kissed him softly, kissed away the discomfort, and hoped it wasn’t obvious that his heart had just melted a little bit more.

Eventually, the robes were gone, pooled together in a slippery pile at the edge of the blanket, and the smallclothes soon followed. Anders was pale all over: lean, rangy and now only half-hard, hunched around his nakedness as if he wasn’t sure what to do. He probably wasn’t, Karl reminded himself, and he resisted the urge to play as rough as he wanted, taking refuge instead in the delicacies of romance.

He leaned back, his weight on his elbows, and let Anders look at him… and he did look. He stared ravenously, taking in everything from the comparative breadth of Karl’s shoulders to the dark curls that scattered his limbs, and the hard length draped rakishly against his stomach.

“You’re bigger than me,” he observed, still staring.

Karl grinned. “Doesn’t matter. You’re gorgeous. Did you know that?”

Anders shifted uncomfortably, cheeks flushed again with that terribly endearing blend of lust and embarrassment.

“You are. Come here. I’ll show you.”

There was only a very small pause—the briefest breath of uncertainty—before Anders scooted gleefully across the blanket and barrelled into his arms.

Karl laughed as they tumbled together, hands and mouths and bodies all finding fresh purchase, and new places to touch. Maker, but there was so much touching…! Anders positively purred under his hands, a lithe coil made of youth’s smooth white-and-pink and the giddy enthusiasm of novel pleasures. Karl traced the golden down on his arms, fingers tenderly skimming the places it started to grow rougher before trailing back up to his armpits, and then allowing his touch to explore the smooth expanse of that pale back.

In turn, Anders was making a very passable attempt at learning him entirely by feel. Karl wasn’t about to complain, and he moved with Anders, the two of them wound up in each other like tangled thread, the blanket rucking up beneath them.

“Ooh….”

Anders’ small coo of surprise broke against Karl’s cheek, his body tensing as their cocks rubbed together. Karl rocked his hips, trying to show him how good that could be, but he willed himself to stillness when Anders pulled back a little, peering down in consternation between them.

Karl followed his gaze. He was achingly hard—so much so that his cock seemed to be pouting towards the object of its affections, pointing with increasing desperation at what it wanted. Anders was in a similar state, though there was admittedly a little less of him. It made Karl want to smile… their differences, and their sameness, boiled right down to those two pieces of flesh. He was longer, and maybe a bit thicker, but Anders looked nicer.

Flaccid, he was darkly blushed and softly vulnerable, just like the gentle core he pretended not to have. Hard, he had a beautiful shape—perfectly proportionate, and very slightly curved to the left—so well defined it should probably have been sculpted in marble or woven as a tapestry. Karl did grin at that thought, and then sunk his teeth into his bottom lip. They were both breathing heavily, arms entwined and legs sprawled all over the place, and yet Anders had pulled back enough for what felt like acres of cold, empty air to whistle between them.

Karl glanced apprehensively at his face, and found him apparently very deep in thought, gazing at their companionably wavering shafts. He opened his mouth to ask what the problem was, but Anders frowned, pressed his lips tight together and, reaching down, took himself between his thumb and two fingers.

He brought the head of his cock to Karl’s, and tapped them gently together, one kissing the other in a soft slick of warmth and incredible intimacy that must surely have had magic at its centre.

Karl caught his breath, his fingers tensing on the back of Anders’ neck, and glanced up into those endless, beautiful eyes.

“Boop,” Anders said solemnly.

The laughter bubbled up between them like a hot spring, all-enveloping and as soothing as it was cathartic. Karl hugged him tight, shifting them around again until Anders was sitting between his thighs, the two of them flush together in all that heat and silk-smooth tenderness.

“I told you so,” he murmured, as Anders’ fingers moved in wondrous curiosity from one shaft to the other, stroking them both—well, not quite together, but close enough. “Gorgeous. Crazy… but wonderful.”

Anders just smirked, then wrapped his legs around Karl’s waist and his arms around his neck, and pulled him close for another long, breathless kiss. His tongue duelled effortlessly alongside Karl’s, every breath of rhythm a promise that spoke of more experience than he really had.

Of course that, Karl thought affectionately, was Anders for you. All mouth and—at this point, anyway—no trousers. He reached down between them, and did a somewhat more expert job of what Anders had been attempting, showing him how that gentle slip-slide of flesh could become the biggest feeling in the world.

Well, one of the biggest feelings, maybe… and he already knew which of the others were on Anders’ shortlist to try.

As Anders wriggled anxiously in his lap, Karl held back on the increasingly irresistible urge to throw him to the blanket and fuck his brains out. Not today… not like that, anyway. Greedy, impatient boys got their comeuppance, but only once they were ready for it. He might know what Anders wanted, but he also knew how carefully he had to give it to him.

“Are you sure you want this?” he asked, stroking his hand over Anders’ hair, and hearing the throatiness in his own voice make the question sound as if it only had one possible answer. “What we talked about?”

Anders nodded fervently. “Mm-hm. I want you to. I want you to… y’know,” he said shyly, his voice dropping to a whisper, as if saying the word itself carried more taboos of naughtiness than the action. “Fuck me.”

Karl had to bite down hard on a whimper. Anders must know he was doing it, he decided. No one could be that maddening inadvertently. It was probably a highly calculated combination of the way he rolled the word around his mouth, debauching every letter of it, and the look in his eyes when he let it slip out, all full of wanton desperation.

“L… uh… lay down. Front down.”

Karl cleared his throat hurriedly, keen to claw back that comforting sense of leadership he’d been clinging to, especially if that meant controlling the urges rampaging through his flesh, and the impatient twitching of his straining cock. Anders complied, propped up on his elbows and peering over his shoulder in a manner that was more like keen, earnest interest than coquettish flirtation.

They had talked about this before, albeit in frequently stammering or veiled terms. Anders wanted to know what it was like; how the act between two men was different to being with a girl—not that he’d done that either—and how it felt to surrender himself. He hadn’t worded it that way although, when they’d spoken of it, Karl had tried his best to indicate some of the more overwhelming feelings that could go along with it. His first time had been painful and distinctly prosaic and, as he recalled, he’d had little enjoyment from it until the fifth or sixth attempt, when a boy in his dorm by the name of Yuric had actually taken the time to do things properly.

Karl had tried to explain that that was what he wanted for Anders, but he hadn’t got terribly far. And now, here he was, laying there in all his glory, with that tail of blond hair hanging over one shoulder, the fluid curve of his spine and the lean lines of his thighs framing that beautiful little backside as if it was the ultimate destination of the universe.

I want to. I want it to be with you.

Such beautiful words. Almost as beautiful as him, Karl decided, tracing those pale globes reverently, and revelling in the way Anders clenched and sighed for him.

He just touched for a little while, hands roaming from thighs to waist, until he felt the apprehensive tension flow out from under his fingers, giving way to the corded anxiety of want.

“Karl…?”

“All right,” he soothed, as Anders threw another plaintive look over his shoulder. “Just let me get… hang on.”

Karl lifted his hand, took a deep and calming breath, then murmured a well-remembered incantation, and smiled as warm grease slicked his fingers. Anders’ eyes widened.

“What’s that? I don’t know that one.”

“Fanthorpe’s Personal Unctuousity,” Karl said smugly. “It’s just a version of a basic grease spell, but with some… useful differences. I’ll teach you. Later.”

“Oh.” Anders nodded and then, as Karl’s hand dipped lower again: “Oh!”

Maker bless and keep you, Estevius Villiers Fanthorpe (7:29 – 7:98 Storm), for you have been the saviour of generations of apprentices, and we shall never forget you.

Anders had admitted—in the safe, silent, gold-toned space of this little eyrie of theirs—to touching himself, but he’d never taken more than a finger before. Karl started with that and worked up in slow and careful increments, until he had Anders fidgeting impatiently on the blanket, muttering strings of imprecations and half-hearted blasphemies.

Karl helped him turn over, legs splayed and shoulders wriggling against the wrinkled wool. Another pass of Fanthorpe’s Unctuosity, and he took himself in hand, making his first and oh-so-tentative push for entrance.

Anders gasped raggedly. His lips bowed into an imperfect circle as Karl pressed deeper, eyes closing and brow creasing with a discomfort he was too proud to admit feeling.

Karl stopped, waited, and traced his thumb down the line of Anders’ cheek, a small gesture of tenderness that didn’t distract either of them from the Rubicon being breached further south.

“Take your time,” he murmured, every shred of control focused on not thinking about how good it felt to have the tip of his cock buried in that tight, hot clasp. The urge to thrust was almost unbearable, but he waited… waited until Anders started to adjust beneath him, his body relaxing enough to welcome the invader, or at least not outright fight him. “Push out, remember?”

Anders wrinkled his nose, and seemed to be on the verge of making a comment about the size of what normally passed through that particular orifice, but it was lost in a quiet gasp.

Karl gave him a little more, encouraged by the soft moan that followed, that whisper of nervous discomfort gradually fading to pleasure. He rubbed slow, comforting circles on the taut, shivering plane of Anders’ belly, coaxing and soothing, fingers trailing down to tenderly graze his slack shaft.

Anders raised his head a little, frowning in confusion at his own groin.

“I… I’m not hard a-anymore….”

“Shh.” Karl squeezed the flaccid member gently, running his thumb under the head’s proud ridge. “Doesn’t matter. I’m not always when I get fucked.”

That word—their word—did something to Anders, he noted. It brought flames to his eyes, and made him lick his lips in the most distractingly attractive manner.

He relaxed, anyway, and lolled back again as Karl stroked him, edging in just a little more… just a little further. Anders groaned and fidgeted, a spate of sharp, panting gasps breaking from him as Karl finally slid home.

“How’s that?” he murmured.

A breathless groan was Anders’ only response, and he lifted one hand from the blanket, flexing it loosely against the air. Karl smiled and snatched the hand in his, lacing their fingers together. Anders squeezed hard enough to turn his knuckles white, and clenched convulsively around him. The air seemed to turn heavy, time hanging in the spaces between seconds as they both waited.

Eventually, Anders relaxed. He let out a long breath, then caught his lower lip between his teeth, eyes turning dark and hazy as he tugged on Karl’s hand.

“Do it.”

Karl’s smile widened. That was more like it. Anders just wasn’t Anders unless he was demanding something.

It didn’t take long. All that heat and silk-fine closeness, and the hoarse, surprised gasps that broke from Anders’ throat, wrapped up in damp, breathless murmurs… it was more than anyone could have withstood. Karl made him turn over again, showing him how a change of position made everything feel different, and eased the pressure on his back. He smiled at the way Anders—on his side now, knees drawn up and body half-twisted, those long, loosely jointed arms splayed out in abandon—let his head drop, his cheek crushed against the rumpled blanet. He was flushed, lips parted as if in the perpetual first framings of a cuss, and his eyes drooped closed, a small frown pinching his brow. As the flush deepened, a vivid red wash that spilled down to the centre of his chest, in such striking contrast to the pallor of his skin, it was easy to identify the exact point at which it stopped hurting, and his last traces of resistance gave way, opening him up to those floods of ineffable pleasure that Karl remembered so well.

He’d turned quite red, with his eyes screwed tight shut, nose wrinkled and mouth hanging open, small noises like breathless whinnies leaving him as he clenched the blanket in his fists. Karl lost himself in it—lost them both—and broke on the sharp edges of the feeling, coming hard and fast as his fingers dug into the pale ridges of Anders’ hips, leaving red marks that might even fade to bruises.

Anders whimpered when he withdrew, his eyes still tightly closed, body trembling just a little. He was beautiful; a stained, imperfect idol, supple and still bent for the taking, and Karl almost wanted to leave him there just for the pleasure of looking at him… but not as much as he wanted to end things right. He trailed his fingers down the length of Anders’ spine, enjoying the way he flexed against the touch, and skated past that tender, slick cleft, pausing to cup his balls briefly before drawing him up and into a warm, secure embrace. Anders’ arms snaked around him, his mouth hot and questing, and a garbled murmur echoed against Karl’s lips as he took hold of that handsome shaft. Anders twitched against his palm, softness and warmth turning to stiffness as he stroked.

He didn’t last long. He hit his peak, moaning into Karl’s shoulder, arms around his neck and his body all at once tight and shaking, and yet bonelessly limp. Karl held him, marvelling at how beautiful he was like that… how unashamed, how vital, like some kind of hidden voluptuary blossoming into full, hungry growth.

Anders’ hand found its way to his cheek, positively clawing at him in order to bring their mouths close for one last sloppy, off-centre kiss. Karl kept stroking, relishing the tiny quivers and whimpers as the sensations grew too intense, pleasure becoming sharp at the edges.

“Andraste’s arse,” Anders slurred against the side of his neck, reaching down with one slightly trembly hand and pushing ineffectively at Karl’s wrist. “Ooh….”

“Too much?” Karl enquired innocently, tightening his grip just a little as he brought the circle of his fingers up Anders’ length, and rubbed his palm across the slick head.

“Mmmfhgh!”

He grinned, and allowed himself a few moments more of indulgent torture, until Anders’ panting whimpers started to sound pained. Karl stilled his hand, and they just lay back on the blanket, no sound in the room but their mingled breaths, and maybe just the slightest suggestion of the lake lapping at the rocks, far beneath the window. It seemed odd that a building so full of people could be so quiet, and Karl supposed maybe they could pretend there were no other people; it was just them, all alone and, more importantly, together.

Gradually, they had parted, and his hand—though still somewhat sticky—lay across his own stomach. There were traces of Anders everywhere, he thought, aware of just how much he needed another bath… and yet he didn’t really ever want to wash again.

The supply room smelled of sweat and sex and, beside him, Anders gave a long sigh. It sounded content, but Karl turned his head anyway, eager to check.

“All right?”

He tried to keep his tone light, conversational… ignoring the reality of what they’d done, and the starry, glazed look on Anders’ face.

“Huh? Oh… yes. Yeah, I’m… yeah.”

He smiled, and then rolled over, draping one arm across Karl’s stomach, propping his chin on his chest and looking up at him with those puppy-dog eyes.

“Thank you.”

“Huh.” Karl scoffed. “I wasn’t exactly doing you a favour. I’m selfish, you know.”

Anders chuckled. “Are you?”

“Mm. And I got what I wanted,” Karl added, lifting a hand and tapping his forefinger against the end of Anders’ nose. “Boop.”

That lovely, pliant grin widened, and Anders pushed himself up further, coming to claim Karl’s mouth in a soft kiss.

Breaths of laughter whispered between them, turning to more kisses and slow, lazy touches. It would have been wonderful to stay there forever, Karl thought, or at least until morning. Wonderful to sleep wrapped up in each other, safe and set apart from all the demands and strictures of this narrow, regimented world.

“We should get back,” Anders said reluctantly, with a small, sad sigh. “Someone will notice.”

Karl groaned, and rested his forehead on his lover’s cheek. “No, they won’t. We’re not important. We’re invisible. No one’ll mind.”

Anders’ fingers trailed gently through his hair. “I don’t want you to get in trouble. Actually, I don’t want to get into trouble, either.”

“No?” Karl raised his head. “Doesn’t sound like you.”

He snorted. “Mm. If they put me on lockdown, I can’t sneak off to be with you, can I?”

“Ah.” Karl smiled, a rush of giddy affection tumbling through him. “I see your logic.”

“I’m a very logical person.”

“Indeed. And very sexy.”

Anders went faintly pink and gave him a big, stupid grin, which eroded Karl’s last shred of resistance. He pushed himself up on his arms, caught that lovely mouth against his, and kissed Anders deeply, losing himself to the sensation of their bodies pressed against each other, full-length, a leisurely and rather wonderful dance.

Anders was half-hard again when they parted, his reproachful whimper almost enough to entreat Karl to stay, never mind the risks. He was right, though… they needed to get back to their respective dormitories. All too soon, there’d be dinner, chapel… more head counts.

“Come on.” He sat up regretfully, reaching for their robes, and tossed Anders’ across the blanket. “Kit on.”

Anders groaned theatrically and made a performance of trying the right hole to put his head through, grumbling all the while. Karl dressed quickly, efficiently, pulling laces tight and brushing the dust from the patterned fabric.

It was hard to resist one more embrace, especially when Anders kissed him so very thoroughly, and looked at him with those big, dark, doe-eyes, a soft smile curling his lips.

“We can do that again, right? I mean—”

“Mm.” Karl grinned. “If you want to.”

“Oh, I think I could be persuaded.”

“Good.”

Anders’ smile faded a little, turning faintly melancholy as his eyes clouded.

“I want to do a lot of things,” he murmured, his fingers trailing loosely down Karl’s arm.

“Oh?” Karl raised an eyebrow, clinging to the hope that Anders meant it as his usual light-hearted smutty innuendo, and that the note of sadness in his voice wasn’t real. “Well, knowing you—”

“I want to sleep next to you,” Anders said softly, picking at the cuff of Karl’s sleeve. “All night. And wake up and go somewhere and buy breakfast. I want to wear trousers, and walk through a market, and live in a house that doesn’t have any stairs. And I want to have cats—big, fat, grumpy cats who never chase rats or mice, and sit on books when I’m trying to read them—and… and I want us to….”

He faltered, and Karl didn’t know whether tears would have eventually come. He didn’t wait to find out, and instead pulled Anders close, hugging him in a fierce, protective grip that took them both a little by surprise.

He pressed his lips to that dirty blond hair, and felt hot breaths burst against the hollow of his throat as Anders slowly calmed. Karl pulled back, caught Anders’ face tight between his palms, and stared into those dark, raw-edged eyes.

There were words for this. He knew that. Words that it would be so easy to say—that it should be so easy to say—and yet his lips trembled rather than let them pass. He ended up saying nothing, and just pulling Anders back towards him, cradling him with quiet, defensive affection.

After all, who knew? Maybe, one day, a life like that would be possible… even for mages.

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Chapter 10
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