FICTOBER DAY 16
Prompt: This is gonna be so much fun!
An AU Dragon Age story.
“I can’t believe you dragged me into this,” Cullen grumbled, as Alistair’s sports car roared down the Imperial Highway. “I have four term papers due in three weeks. I should be at the university library right now, doing my research!”
“Oh, come on Curly!” Cullen scowled at Alistair. He hated that nickname. Alistair, all smiles, continued on unawares. “This is gonna to be so much fun! The two of us haven’t done anything together for such a long time. We may live together in the same apartment, but it seems like we pass each other by in a blur most days. I'm focusing on my Business major and you’ve been cooped up in the science lab or library for weeks now! Time for some fresh air, buddy!”
“An eight-hour drive from Denerim to the boondocks of Lake Calenhad… all for a camping trip. You know I’m not a fan of the outdoors,” Cullen sighed. “And can you please turn down that blaring rock noise you insist on listening to? Frankly, it gives me a headache.”
Alistair obliged and turned the radio down. “I thought you science majors loved the outdoors. Collecting new samples and specimens? Surely there will be something for you to study out by the lake.”
“Alistair, I switched my major last year. I decided on Biochemistry rather than Environmental Sciences. It was more challenging for me. I’ll be spending most of my time in the lab… if I can get into the Master's program at our school. They only take six students a year. That is why I need top grades! That is why my term papers are so important!”
“Dude, you’re in the top ten. How much higher does your GPA need to be?”
“Very high. The competition is fierce. I need that scholarship to help cover the cost of the program.” Cullen ran a hand through his mussed hair. Having the top down in this sports car also annoyed him. But no matter how much he griped about it… “Money is tight for me. My part-time job pays next to nothing, you know.”
Alistair was silent for several minutes, then said, “I could talk to my father…”
“No! I’ve told you, I don’t want a handout!” Cullen sighed at the hurt look on Alistair’s face. He still wondered – even after all these years – how the heir to one of the richest families and owners of the largest business in Ferelden ended up becoming friends with a poor farm kid from Honnleath. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate the offer, but I don’t want to be obligated to anyone. Especially not my best friend and his family.”
Alistair gave his friend a half-smile. “I understand, I do, buddy. Let’s just focus on de-stressing you for a few days!” he trailed off in silence and a moment later turned the radio back up as Tom Petty came on. “Love this song,” he said and then began to sing along to it. “Runnin’ down a dream…”
Cullen chuckled slightly. Alistair was right. He had been under a lot of stress lately, having deleted the last two versions of the paper he had been trying to write for a week already. Alistair knew fun. Maybe a few days off at the Theirins hunting lodge would help him refocus. “So what all do you have planned for us then?” he asked.
“Oh?” Alistair turned the radio down again. “Finally decided to come around, buddy? That’s great! Just two dudes roughing it! I packed us some fishing rods so we can catch our own dinner! There are some canoes, so we can paddle around the lake, and go swimming too! I did also pack some beers in the cooler. We’ll have a blast!”
“Did you pack the essentials, besides beer? I mean, you do have some backup food, should we fail to catch any fish, yes?”
“Oh, of course!” Alistair grinned. “I packed marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers for us to make s’mores. Pretty sure I also grabbed a few bags of chips too.”
Cullen stared at his friend. “That’s it? Chips, sweets, and beer?” he put a hand to his head. “I hope you know how to fish then. I’ve never fished once in my life…”
“How hard can it be? Put a worm on the hook and drop the line in the water! We’ll figure it out!” Alistair’s enthusiasm just couldn’t be dampened. “I’m sure we’ll also find some berries in the woods too!”
“Maker preserve me…” Cullen mumbled. “I hope you didn’t forget the sunscreen. I’ll burn if I stay in the sun too long.”
“Is that why you’re wearing a long-sleeve shirt and pants in this weather? Don’t worry, it’s packed,” Alistair said. At least, I think I packed it… “You needn’t worry, pal. Kinloch College isn’t too far off from the cabin, so if we run into any trouble – which we won’t – help will be available. Just trust me, okay?”
“Did you say Kinloch College? Isn’t that the magic college?”
“Uh-huh,” Cullen said softly.
“Did I also mention it’s an all-girls school too?” Alistair winked and nudged his friend. “Maybe we'll meet some cute girls while out there!”
“All-girls?” Cullen’s eyebrows raised. “Since when?”
“About two years ago, I think.”
“They don’t teach magic to men anymore?”
“Of course they do! They just moved that to a school up in the Free Marches.”
“Why the segregation?”
Alistair shrugged. “I don’t know. Never asked.”
A few more moments passed in silence with only the radio and the hum of the tires on the highway providing any noise. “How much further to this cabin then?” Cullen finally asked.
“I figure we’ll get there in about an hour.”
“That’s good.” Just then, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Call Me the Breeze’ came on the radio. “Well, this song I like at least,” Cullen smiled and hummed along.
Alistair grinned again and sang along with his friend.
“Well now, they call me the breeze
I keep blowin' down the road
Well now, they call me the breeze
I keep blowin' down the road
I ain't got me nobody
I don't carry me no load
Ooh, Mr. Breeze…”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“We’re here!”Alistair called out cheerily.
Cullen had dozed off during the last half hour of the drive and Alistair’s cheery voice woke him up. He opened his eyes, rubbed them, and grabbed his glasses off the dashboard to put them on. He was eager to see the nice hunting lodge he knew Alistair’s father owned.
What he saw instead made him do a double-take.
Cullen was stunned that the ramshackle cabin even still stood.
“This is where we are staying?”
“This isn’t… a joke. Is it?” Just whose cabin was this? Surely this can’t belong to the Theirins!
“No.” Alistair looked momentarily confused. “No joke.” Then he smiled. “Oh, you thought we were going to stay at my dad’s hunting lodge? Naw, that’s in the Frostbacks. This old cabin belongs to my Uncle Teagan. Before he made his fortune he lived the single bachelor’s life out here. Roughing it! Just like we will!”
“But Teagan isn’t really your uncle, right?”
“I know. He’s actually my half-brother Cailan’s uncle. But I’ve always called him that too, so…” Alistair shrugged and unlocked the trunk of the car. “Anyways, let’s get unpacked! I want to get out on that lake and catch some fish for dinner!” He grabbed the cooler out of the trunk and placed it on the ground near the car. He then pulled out two brown paper bags with the other food and put them next to the cooler. Then he headed to the door of the so-called cabin and unlocked the front door.
Cullen sighed. No electricity, meaning he wouldn’t be able to charge his laptop. He’d hoped to maybe get a little work done even while “roughing it”. He knew it would be rude (and not very prudent) to try and charge it off of the car battery. No lights also meant the few books he’d packed to read could only be read by daylight and he knew Alistair wouldn’t let him sequester himself during the day to read! Off in the distance, he saw an even smaller leaning building with a distinctive crescent moon in the wooden door… Oh Maker, no! An outhouse?!
No running water? He never considered himself a vain man, but still took immaculate care of himself with a nightly shower and grooming routine. Now all of that was left by the wayside. What in Thedas have I been roped into?
Alistair came back to the car to grab his duffel bag. “Why are you still just standing there! Come on and grab your stuff! Daylight’s wasting!”
Cullen groaned. I suppose it’s too late to back out now. I’m kind of stuck here… and I don’t want to ruin this for my best friend. I might as well see if there is anything that can be salvaged out of this excursion! He grabbed his own bag and slowly headed over to the cabin.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
However, once inside the cabin, Cullen’s hopes diminished further. Dust was caked everywhere and there were thick cobwebs in every corner of the cabin.
Alistair walked up and thumped him on the back. “Isn’t it great?!”
“Ah, not to dampen your enthusiasm… but when was this place last cleaned?”
Alistair looked around. “Yeah, I suppose it does need a good sweeping. Teagan hasn’t stayed here in years.”
Sweeping? More like scouring. Cullen ran a finger along the sole table in the room. It came back black with dirt. He frowned. “We should get that done first.”
“What about the fishing? Shouldn’t we try and catch something?”
“Look, I’m all for that, as I am hungry,” Cullen said with a slight smirk. “But I really think we need to get this place somewhat… habitable?” He looked around the small one bedroom cabin. “Any idea if your uncle left any cleaning supplies?”
“There’s a shed in the back,” Alistair replied. “Maybe there will be some brooms and stuff there?”
“I’ll go look.” Cullen left the cabin and walked around it to the back. There was a shed there, but it was padlocked. Cullen examined it closely. Rusty. Perhaps I can break it off? He spied an axe sticking out of a nearby stump. He picked up the axe and hefted it, testing its weight. Then he walked back over to the shed. Lining himself up properly, he brought the axe up and swung it down hard. The rusty lock shattered and the door to the shed swung open. He grinned… but only for a moment. A distinctive black and white furred critter ambled out of the shed. It hissed at the intrusion the tall human had caused to its home, turned, and started raising its fluffy tail.
Cullen gulped and quickly dropped the axe. He turned and hightailed it back to the cabin as quickly as he could.
He burst in the door and then slammed it shut, startling Alistair and several spiders. Cullen then peered out the side window. He could see the skunk was wandering around, then it disappeared behind the cabin again. He heaved a sigh.
“What,” Alistair blinked at his friend, “in Thedas just happened? You look like you’ve seen an abomination.”
“Worse.” Cullen sniffed his clothes. Thank the Maker! No stench. “Skunk.”
Alistair burst out laughing.
“It’s not funny,” Cullen growled. “I’m just lucky it didn’t spray me.”
“Well, it’s a little funny.” Alistair smiled, even as Cullen still frowned. “Point is, you didn’t get hit. Let’s just get our trunks on and go for a little swim. Now that we’re here, making noise, and whatnot, it’ll probably decide to move on. We can check the shed later for supplies. Okay?”
“I suppose you have a point there,” Cullen said and nodded. “Fine, I guess a short swim won’t hurt for now.” He nodded towards the sole bedroom. “Can I go in there to change?”
“Sure, pal. I’ll just change out here.” Alistair unzipped his duffel and pulled out his swim trunks. Cullen did the same and then went into the bedroom.
The bedroom was no better than the rest of the cabin. One lone bed sat in the middle of the room. The frame was rusty and the mattress had definitely seen better days; dust covering it in a thick layer and springs poking out in a few places. Cullen rolled his eyes. Where in the void does he think we’re going to sleep, Cullen wondered. I think my weight alone would cause this bed to collapse!
He pulled off his shirt, jeans, and boxer briefs. Then he slipped on his swimwear. He then folded his clothes neatly and brought them back out of the room. He placed them back in his bag, then zipped it shut. Facing Alistair he then asked, “Sunscreen?”
Alistair looked at Cullen sheepishly. “I’m sorry, I guess I did forget it. But we can still swim without it, right? Wouldn’t it have just washed off in the water?”
Cullen sighed for what must’ve been the umpteenth time. “Fine, I suppose. I just won’t stay out as long.”
“I really am sorry, pal. I know you had everything lined up on our apartment table to pack…”
“I said it’s fine.” Cullen put an arm on Alistair to reassure him. “Let’s just go out and have a little fun. The sun will be setting soon and then the lake will be too cold.”
They left the cabin and carefully shut the door. At the rickety dock they both slipped off their shoes and socks, then they jumped into the water. Cullen swam out a ways then came up for air. He shook the water out of his hair and then looked for Alistair. His friend was nowhere nearby.
“Alistair?” Cullen called out.
Just then, something grabbed Cullen’s legs and yanked him underwater!
Panicking and kicking, he quickly managed to get back to the surface of the water… to see Alistair floating nearby and laughing.
“The look on your face was priceless!” Alistair guffawed.
“You. Are. Going. To. Pay. For. That!” Cullen growled but grinned at his friend at the same time. He then tackled Alistair and the two of them floundered in the water, splashing and dunking each other.
About fifteen minutes later, Cullen said, “I think we need to get out now, dry off, and see if we can get into that shed to get the cabin cleaned up a bit. Yes?”
Alistair was floating on his back in the water nearby. “Sure, I guess so. Race you back?”
“Ready? Onetwothree GO!” Alistair called out and quickly launched himself ahead.
“Oy! Cheater!” Cullen called out. Then he swam as quickly as he could. He ended up tagging the dock at the same time as his friend, despite Alistair’s head start. Laughing, the both clambered out of the water, grabbed their towels and dried off. Then Cullen slipped his shoes back on.
“Let me go grab the chips and some beers out of the… cooler.” Alistair started but trailed off.
“What?” Cullen laughed at first, then saw what made Alistair pause.
A large black bear had wandered into the clearing by the cabin. It stood between the men and the cabin. Just then another bear came. It walked over to where the cooler sat.
Bear number one turned and faced the two men. It stood up on its hind legs and roared.
“Shit!” Cullen whispered. “No sudden moves, Alistair!”
But Alistair was already running to the nearest tree. He launched himself off the ground with a mighty jump and grabbed the branch above him. He just managed to pull himself up and out of harm's way just as the bear reached the tree.
Cullen breathed a sigh of relief, but only for a moment. Now the bear turned to face him. He gulped, quickly glanced around, found another tree and dashed for it. He too, just made it to safety as the bear tried to swipe at him.
The bear growled and then left. It joined its companion and while bear two nosed at the cooler, bear one tore into the paper bags that held what little food Alistair had packed.
It didn’t take them long to devour or destroy the foodstuffs. Then bear number two got the cooler opened and while it ate some of the ice, it couldn’t do anything about the strange glass bottles it had dug out of the hard box. It swatted them around, busting them open and leaving shards of broken glass on the ground near the cooler. Then it sniffed the contents of the spilled liquid. Not liking what it smelled, it ambled off. Bear one also left shortly thereafter.
Cullen and Alistair let another ten minutes or so pass before they both climbed out of the trees.
“Well, this is just fucking terrific!” Cullen snarled. “Why didn’t you put the cooler and the food in the cabin, Alistair!”
“Hey! How was I supposed to predict bears were going to show up!” Alistair shouted back. “I’m not psychic!”
“And I suppose that if I go check the car, I'll find that you probably also forgot to pack the fishing poles too, huh?” Cullen bent down and picked up some of the broken glass. “Let’s face it, this whole stupid trip was a waste of my time! I should have just stayed in Denerim and worked on my papers!”
“Is that how you really feel?” Alistair asked quietly. “Am I a waste of your time too now, Cullen?”
“Yes!” Cullen shouted before he realized what he had responded to. The pained look on Alistair’s face quickly made him realize what an ass he was being. His anger quickly cooled. “I mean… no! No, you are not a waste of my time. Maker’s Breath, Alistair. I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”
Alistair was silent for a long time. Then he said, “Maybe we… should go back. To Denerim. I,” he swallowed painfully. “I think it’s clear, we are just two different people now. I’ll…” He hesitated again. “I’ll move out when we get back.”
Cullen ran up to where his friend was. “Alistair, no. Please. Don’t do this. I… I wouldn’t be who I am today without your friendship and support over the years. I am sorry I said what I did. I-I have just been under an enormous amount of stress. You planned this whole thing to try and help me relax for Maker’s sake! And you know what?”
Alistair looked up at Cullen. “What?”
“Despite the ramshackle cabin, the outhouse, the filth, the skunk, and the bears, I was actually starting to relax and have some fun.” He gave a lopsided smile at his friend. “I have you to thank for that!”
“Really?” Alistair glanced at his friend, hope springing back to his eyes. “What about all of your complaints?”
Cullen snorted. “You should know well enough by now that is just how I’ve always been!”
Alistair smiled slightly. “Well, I suppose that is true.”
“You are a great guy and a fun-loving friend,” Cullen grinned. “I’ve always liked that about you.”
“And you’ve always been serious enough for the both of us!”
“Now that is an understatement!” Cullen laughed.
“So… Now what?” Alistair smiled and shrugged. “Guess our camping excursion is a bust.”
“I say we go back into that cabin, get dressed, then throw our bags back into your car and drive to the nearest town. We get a hotel, then go out and have some fun! Eat, drink, and have a blast! I don’t need to be back in Denerim for at least four days.”
“You know,” Alistair grinned wide. “I like the sound of that! Let’s go!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
After they finished getting dressed, they left the rickety cabin. They stowed their duffels in the trunk of the car. While Cullen examined to see if the cooler could at least be salvaged, Alistair walked back over to the cabin in the waning light of day.
“Frankly, I don’t know what I was thinking when I thought we could stay here. I say good riddance!” He kicked one of the posts that supported the front porch, then turned and started walking away.
All of a sudden both men heard a loud creak. They looked up.
There was a long groan.
And then a deafening snap as the post broke in two. With that, the cabin completely lost all structural support and it collapsed in on itself.
Both Alistair and Cullen stared in shock as the dust settled around the remains of the cabin. Then they both burst out laughing.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
After their fun mini vacation, Cullen and Alistair headed back to Denerim. Cullen finished all his papers with plenty of time to spare.
He did get into the Master’s Program with a full scholarship. Alistair ended up working for his father; the two of them still sharing an apartment for a time.
Eventually, Alistair met and married a young woman. He moved out of the apartment.
Cullen was lonely living by himself but threw himself into his studies. Alistair and his wife visited when they could.
After graduating with full honors, Cullen decided to take a year off before pursuing his doctorate.
He, Alistair, and Alistair’s wife all headed back to the spot on Lake Calenhad where the cabin had once stood. The three of them decided to rebuild it.
During that year, Alistair’s wife introduced Cullen to her cousin. They hit it off immediately.
That following year, there was much to celebrate.
There was a marriage.
There was a new baby.
And as both happy young couples stood together on the shore of Lake Calenhad to admire their brand new two-story vacation cabin, Cullen and Alistair both glanced at each other, reminiscing about how it had all begun… by a botched camping trip!