"Do you think I can fly if I glue feathers to my arms?" The blonde boy asks when Cullen wanders over to see what the stranger is doing in the back yard. The wooded area belongs to his family but kids from all over use it as a place to play.
"No," Cullen says as he looks down. There's a mess of cut and uncut construction paper on the ground before him. The cut parts are kind of feathered shaped, but they don't really look like feathers to Cullen. "Especially with paper feathers."
"Well I don't have anything else to make them out of," the boy says as he squints down at the paper. Carefully cutting around the tip of a feather with scissors too big to make it easy. "I can't find enough on the ground and it'd be mean to try and take them."
"You can't fly," Cullen states more clearly as he hunkers down to watch. Curious now because the boy's determined to try, and Cullen kind of wants to see what'll happen.
"You're just saying that cause you've never tried," the boy looks up and grins widely at him. His eyes are a light brown, and there's a dusting of freckles across the bridge of his nose. He holds out another pair of scissors with half of one blade missing. "Help me cut them out, it's taking too long."
"Ok," Cullen takes them and sits down to help.
Later, in the hospital as the boy gets his arm set in a cast and Cullen's parents give him disappointed looks he learns two things. The boy's name is Alistair and even when he's hurting he never stops smiling.
"You only say that because you have never tried," Alistair says with a grin that nearly swallows his face.
"I do not need to have tried to know you'll get boxed around the ears by the Sisters for trying," Cullen says as he tilts his head back to look up at the other boy. He's dangling precariously off the side of the building. Eyes firmly fixed on the roof he's trying to reach. For some reason he hasn't shared other than because he wants to.
"They do that anyway," Alistair dismisses easily as he creeps up higher. "I might as well give them a good reason."
He already does give them a good reason. Many good reasons. Cullen says nothing though. Morbidly curious to see how far his fellow recruit will get before either falling or being caught.
Alistair comes out late, and Cullen puts his book away in his bag as the boy jogs over with a grin. "Hey, you waited!"
"I said I would," Cullen reminds his friend before pulling the bag on and walking away from school to home. "Why were you in detention this time?"
"For asking questions," Alistair says as he rolls his eyes. "Seriously, they say we can ask questions and that there's no such thing as a dumb question. But as soon as my hand goes up it's all 'Detention, Alistair!'"
There's more to it than that. With Alistair there always is. Cullen's known the boy long enough to just shake his head and let it go though. Trying to follow what happened will just lead to a convoluted story more likely to give Cullen a headache than enlightenment.
"So, anyway," Alistair swings his own bag from hand to hand, "I think my mom's going to buy be a car soon. It'll be nice not having to walk all the time, right?"
"You just got your license," Cullen points out. A little envious because he's still got a month before he can apply for his. "You can't drive anyone else around for three months."
"Pft!" Alistair snorts and waves his hand. "Really? That's a stupid law and everyone knows it. No one actually follows it."
They don't, but Cullen knows that with Alistair's luck he'll be the one teenager in history to get caught and punished for it. "You really want to tempt fate like that?"
"Well," Alistair grimaces and falters a bit. Even he can't deny the truth of it. "Maybe?"
"No, Alistair," Cullen's gotten used to being the voice of reason in their friendship. Even if the pout he gets for it almost makes him reconsider.
"No, Alistair," Cullen hisses even as he creeps after the young man. The few lit lamps throw crazy shadows that make him tense as Alistair heads unerringly for the pantry.
"Yes, Alistair," Alistair whispers back with more than a little laugh hidden under the words. He stops to give Cullen a dazzling smile that works better to keep him quiet than the threat of being found. "Come on, it'll be fine. I do this all the time."
"And you get caught all the time," Cullen mutters. Thankful both for the darkness and the fact that Alistair turns right back around to keep his flush hidden. "You really don't need to do this."
"It's your birthday," Alistair states firmly before scuttling across an open area to huddle at the door to the pantry. He squints down at the door a moment and Cullen can hear a faint clicking sound as he fiddles with the lock. It gives far too easily, and Cullen moves fast to follow him inside. "You deserve something nice."
"How about a day of not having to see you get punished?" Cullen suggests even though it's far too late to dissuade him now.
"Something nice," Alistair repeats a little louder as he starts hunting through the shelves. "Oh, they've got some new cheeses! No. We need something- Aha!"
Cullen flinches as the sound echoes, but the door is shut and not likely to wake the notoriously watchful head-cook. Alistair digs through a sack and comes out with a small tin. He presents it to Cullen with a broad smile that makes him takes it despite his misgivings. He knows what it is even before he can get the lid fully off.
"No, someone will miss this," Cullen denies even as he thinks the small cakes, clearly expensive and meant for someone important, look really good.
"Sure, but they won't be able to prove who might have taken them," Alistair pushes the tin back towards him and then physically starts to herd him away from the shelf. "Come on, if we eat them in the stable no one will know."
The dreams have always been vague and strange. A product of his overactive imagination. A term a teacher had used for him in second grade that stuck even though Cullen's not the imaginative type. He likes history which might explain some things but some of the things he dreams about seem too real.
But then there are the dreams that are just too ridiculous to be true. Dreams where he knows things are happening but the details fade when he wakes up. Just dreams in the end. Cullen shrugs them off for the most part.
It's harder to do some days than others.
The dorm room is dark when he wakes up but there's enough light coming in the open window to see Alistair. Stretched out over the too small bed. Mouth open on something too quite to be a snore but too loud to be simple breathing. There might or might not be little bit of drool soaking into the pillow his face is half buried in.
Cullen stares at him and tells his chest to ease up already. Alistair is fine. He right there. Within touching distance if Cullen wants to stretch out that far.
The image of a collapsing bridge don't leave him though. In his dream he was too far away to do anything as a monster right out of legends destroyed it. Alistair and people Cullen had only known while asleep running too slow to escape the abyss that was both black and poisonous green.
It's stupid to be so upset over a dream but Cullen stays up until the sky turns light just to make sure Alistair is alright.
"How can you have no marks?" Alistair asks with a laugh. His calloused hands wander down Cullen's back. Strong fingers pressing into the tense muscles hard enough to make him hiss in a mixture of pain and relief. "I didn't even leave the Chantry without a few scars."
"I did not cause quite the same amount of trouble you always got up to," Alistair's fingers are a wonder, but it's the heat of his body that Cullen truly relishes. Between the needs of the Inquisition and the Gray Wardens they rarely get the chance to just be like this.
"You did not get caught. That's not the same as not getting into trouble," ten fingers spread out over the span of his lower back and Alistair pushes slowly. Using his weight to crack the spine. Leaning down, though Cullen doesn't realize that until lips press against his shoulder.
"If I got up to any mischief it was only due to your influence."
"Are you calling me a bad influence?" Alistair laughs against his skin and the drag of his stubble reignites a slow burn in his stomach. "I'll have you know Sister Darlene called me a saintly boy."
"Once, when she first met you and then she called you the exact opposite afterwards," Cullen rolls quickly and catches Alistair by the hips before he can move back. "I kind of liked it when she called you a silver tongued demon."
"It wasn't her most creative name," Alistair dismisses and moves despite Cullen's hands. Shifting until he's laid out fully over him. "I was always more partial to the names the younger Sisters called you behind your back Golden Boy."
Cullen stifles a groan against Alistair's laughing lips.
"Why didn't you go?" Alistair asks and it takes Cullen a long moment to link the words with life.
"Why didn't I go to the sushi place?" Cullen asks incredulously. The only person who hates that fad food worse than Cullen is Alistair. "Sushi? Really?"
"You didn't have to eat it," Alistair says like that makes perfect sense. He tilts back in the chair as he keeps tossing his pen up and down. One of the library workers is going to come by soon to glare at him for abusing the chairs again. "They obviously wanted you go with them."
"There's no point going out if I'm not going to eat," Cullen turns his eyes back down to his notebook. The numbers still don't make much sense, but at least he knows they have to follow some kind of rule. Unlike Alistair's mind.
"And I thought I was bad at this," Alistair laughs a little. He's happy when Cullen looks up. Happier than he has been for the past few hours at least. Alistair's been strangely sulky for most of the day. "They were flirting with you, Cullen."
"What?" Cullen feels himself blink, and the denials come to his lips automatically before he stops them. He considers the day and the remarks his classmates had been making when they asked him to go to lunch with them. Him only despite the fact they'd come across him studying with Alistair. "Oh, I, uh."
"Didn't even notice," Alistair cackles and the chair thumps back down onto the ground hard so he can lean over the table. "Man, Cullen how're you ever going to get a girlfriend if you keep missing it when they hit on you?"
"Why would I want a girlfriend when I have you?" Cullen snaps and ignores the stupid jump in his chest that happens anytime either of them makes that joke. "You nag me enough for five."
"And you nag enough for ten," Alistair says cheerfully before sliding back across the table at a pointed throat clearing from the part-time worker that keeps checking on them every few minutes.
They're dead. Blood soaks the very stones of the Tower as demons and abominations roam freely. He can hear Uldred's chanting from above. The tortured screams as the mages fall one by one echo in his ears.
He's failed. Utterly failed and the sinuous voices of the demons pick and claw at that. Battering him with images and delusions in an attempt to break him.
"No, no, no," Cullen moans. He presses his fists to the cold floor using the real pain to chase away the illusions spun around him. "Damn your lies.... I will not fall!"
He screams his defiance to the demons, to the empty halls of the Tower, to the insidious voice in his mind that whispers how much easier it would be to give in. To just lay down and let it all end.
"No!" Cullen screams and falls to his knees the sharp pain of the flesh lifting the haze of torment from his mind all too briefly. "I will not! I will not!"
Cullen wakes up not because it's time to but because he can't breathe.
"Alistair," he grunts and punches out until he's got some space. Enough that breathing isn't a chore at least.
Alistair makes a protesting noise as he stirs awake. He yawns widely before looking at Cullen like he's done something wrong. "What?"
"What?" Cullen repeats because he's still too groggy with sleep to come up with anything clever. "You have your own bed, Alistair."
"I like yours better," Alistair says to the pillow he blatantly stole. The beds are too small for either of them, and Cullen feels crowded with Alistair plastered against his side. Tightly and Cullen's grateful for the darkness hiding hi face as he tries to shift away. "'s comfy."
"So's yours," Cullen doesn't get far before hitting the wall. Alistair unrepentantly expands into the small space opened up. "Alistair...." Alistair doesn't answer or move, and Cullen would think he's fallen back asleep if he didn't know the man so well. Worry replaces the slow burn of embarrassment and Cullen stops trying to burrow into the wall. "Alistair, what's wrong?"
The silence stretches unnaturally long but Cullen waits it out patiently. It's only a few minutes before Alistair huffs into the pillow and rolls away enough so that Cullen can see him. Well, the shape of his face really with only a bit of his temple and one eye visible in the faint light.
He's not smiling and that's strange for him. Alistair's smile usually only grows the worse things are. Not seeing his smile is more alarming than anything he thought possible.
"It's stupid," Alistair eventually mumbles.
"It usually is," Cullen quips automatically and is rewarded with a shift of the lighted cheek that's a smile.
"Yeah, but really stupid," Alistair says wryly. "It's just bad dreams alright? Stupid. See?"
Cullen almost makes another smart remark. Teasing Alistair about needing a teddy bear, but he doesn't really need to see his face to know the smile there is kind of fragile. And he's been there himself. More than once lately. He just never quite got the gut up to do more than stare at Alistair.
His arm fits far too well over Alistair. "Yeah," he agrees softly and doesn't move away as the other man spreads out enough to crowd Cullen again. He doesn't move away again. "It really is stupid."
"You can't cure this," Alistair says. He smiles but the focus of his cloudy eyes is off. Has been off for far longer than either of them have been willing to admit. His hand is cold when he reaches for Cullen. "Hey, it's not like we did not know this was coming. Early death is part and parcel with the whole Warden thing, and I've had more good years than most get."
Cullen kisses him. Pulls him close and ignores the chill of his body, the slightly off taste of his lips, and just kisses him. His vision blurs when he pulls back and he can't talk. Can't say anything at all. He just stands there and holds him. His prayers going unanswered though he keeps repeating them long after Alistair has left.
"I don't want to be alone," Alistair says.
The room is light but Cullen's still floating half way between waking and asleep. He's holding Alistair close. Too tight, and he's praying. Mumbled words that choke off to a stop after Alistair speaks.
"I didn't want to be alone," Alistair corrects and that should not make an sense at all except it does. "The Deep Roads are lonely, and I hated going there alone."
"I'm sorry," the words are dragged out slowly from him because the dream was too real to not have happened. "I should have gone with you. I should hav-"
"Stayed right where you were. They needed you," Alistair laughs and his arms are as tight as Cullen's. "I just hated it. I could've gone with the Legion of the Dead, but got stubborn at the last minute."
"What the fuck is this even?" Cullen asks after a moment of silence to marvel at the heat in Alistair's body. The life in the body next to him. Whole and strong and very much alive.
Alistair rolls them over and presses Cullen's head into the mattress with a fierce kiss. Firm lips that part on a shaky laugh when he pulls back just a little. "Maker, I've wanted to do that for a while."
"A while?" Cullen asks with a smile because he knows that feeling. Memories that are still dream-like of past kisses pale in comparison to that all too brief press of lips. "Let me guess the first time I gave you my lunch in middle school."
"Nah, when you helped me break my left arm. You're pretty hot when you're cutting construction paper," Alistair says before leaning down to kiss him again.