It was finally quiet.
The cool night air blew through Eragon's tent on the evening after the Varden's sixth battle with the Empire in as many days. The battle for Alagaesia was an agonizingly brutal one, with droves of soldiers from both sides being slain everyday.
Spirits seemed to be drastically low within the Varden. No matter how many soldiers they were able to slay, more seemed to come. It was a common feeling among all that, if the elves didn't appear soon with their steadfast soldiers and clever spellweavers, the battle would be a loss for the Varden.
Nearly each day was the same for Eragon and Saphira: destroy Empire soldiers up and down the front battle line, heal those who weren't on death's door, meet with Nasuada, King Orrin, Arya and the Counsel of Elders, then rest. And at the end of each day, Eragon felt more and more hopeless. With so much fighting and not enough rest in between, his power was slowly beginning to dwindle. On the day accompanying this evening, he could not even lift a pebble with his own powers, and had to rely heavily on Saphira in order to heal the wounded and fight the Empire.
But the fighting wasn't the only plague on his mind at that moment where he lay in a waking sleep state. As always, his thoughts wondered to Arya. He made a promise that he would not pursue her anymore, for fear that their friendship would disappear and he would never have the pleasure of her company again. But he could not stop himself from thinking of how incredible she was. Their travels together had taught him so much about her, and he couldn't help but want to learn more. Among all the hard times that had befallen him, the one silver lining was his feelings for Arya, even if she did not reciprocate the same feelings for him.
Suddenly, in the mist of his waking sleep, he felt another presence. But no….it wasn't just any presence…
He sat up quickly to see who was entering his tent, but there was nobody there. Slightly confused, he lay back down, turning on his side—and there she was.
"Arya," Eragon whispered, rapidly sitting up again. She sat on the far side of his tent, her knees bent, arms wrapped around them. She looked nowhere but down at the ground, her dark, long hair covering her face, making no noise but the soft swell of her breath.
Eragon didn't speak for fear that it was only a sweet dream. He simply maneuvered himself so he was sitting like she, both on opposite sides of the tent. It was several minutes of sitting in each other's silent company that Arya finally spoke.
"I didn't mean to wake you," she murmured, still refusing to meet his eye.
Eragon shrugged. "I can't remember the last time I slept. You've nothing to fear," he finished with a half-hearted chuckle.
An uneasy silence followed this short exchange of words—a silence that made Eragon want to jump out of his skin. What is she doing here? Why isn't she resting? he wondered to himself. Soon the question became too much of a burden and he could hold it in no longer. He opened his mouth to ask—
"I had to come to make sure you were well," Arya said, answering his unasked quandary. Eragon stared at her for a moment, unsure of what she just said. Finally she met his gaze and continued. "You've battled among the soldiers for several days," she began softly. "You've healed the wounded, whether they were Varden or Empire not mattering. You've healed Saphira's much larger wounds." She took a deep breath, looking away for a moment, but then gained eye contact again. "I grow increasingly concerned."
Eragon continued to stare, unable to squelch his hopes. Arya? Concerned over him? He couldn't think of why she would be…except that maybe perhaps…finally…
"You're the only hope the Varden has," she continued, head held high. "You are what gives the soldiers faith, why they keep fighting. It's under the best intentions of all if you don't kill yourself by helping those who are nearly dead."
Ah. The Varden, of course, he thought, feeling his hopes diminish once again. "I do agree, Arya Svit-kona, that it would be unwise to compromise my energy on things other than the battle at hand," he spoke softly. "but with rest and nourishment, I'm able to regain the lost energy and once again fight for the Varden." He spoke quietly in his native tongue, for he knew he would have to tell a small lie to stop her worries.
Eragon watched as Arya dawned a glazed look upon her face, as though she were unable to think of what to say. After a moment of another awkward silence, she stood. "Then I shall let you continue with your rest. Good night."
"Wait!" Eragon exclaimed, louder than he intended, although it produced the outcome he wanted. Arya stopped at the front of the tent, waiting for him to continue.
None of it made any sort of sense. Why would she sneak into his tent when she could have waited for the next day to voice her concerns? Why have concerns, already knowing the answer in which he was going to give?
He then remembered something he was once told about elves: They have mastered the ability at saying something, but not revealing the whole truth of the statement. There was another reason he was awoken, and he was determined to figure it out.
He walked up to Arya, stopping some feet behind her. Taking a deep breath, he asked before his confidence failed him: "Why did you come here tonight?"
Arya turned around to face him, a confused looked upon her face. "I have already told you what I've come here to say. I have nothing more."
He stepped closer, and asked again, "Why did you come here tonight?"
She furrowed her brow. "I've told you, and if you're to act foolish now, I'll--"
He stepped closer once again so they were mere inches apart. He fixed his eyes on hers, and said in only a breath, "Why?"
For the first time Arya seemed to notice how close they were. She took a step back, only to have Eragon take a step forward. She stopped retreating, and said in a determined voice, "You have a job to do, Argetlam."
Eragon nodded, never breaking eye contact. "As do you, Arya Svit-kona." She nodded curtly once, but never broke his gaze.
They stood there, at the opening of his tent, for a moment, before Eragon decided to do the bravest thing he's done since finding Saphira's egg all that time ago. He slowly raised his hand level to Arya's face, cupping her cheek for a moment, before closing the gap between them and pressing his lips to hers.
At that very moment, nothing else existed. All of the fighting, all of the traveling, all of the being chased and fearing for his life, was erased the instant their lips touched. And he had never been so happy in his life, not even during the first successful flight on Saphira, as he was when he felt her kiss him back.
But the bliss was to be short lived, as after a mere moment Arya pushed him away and covered her face with her hands. "Now you've gotten me to act as foolish as you!" she sighed miserably through her fingers.
Eragon's regret for his actions ceased at her exclamation. "Act?" he asked, affronted. "Act? That was not just an act, Arya, and you know it!"
Arya gazed at him for a moment, a lost look in her eyes, before turning to leave, "I can not--" But before she could go, Eragon stepped in front of her.
"You know how I feel for you," he began, breathing deeply in anger. "I have admitted it, and do not fear it. But you won't let yourself admit how you feel about me! And you can not say that your only thoughts for me are in a friendly manner, because I know it to be a lie!"
"I'm old, Eragon!" she shouted. She then sighed, berating herself for her loud outburst, and shook her head slowly, allowing her hair to once again fall in her face. Quietly, she continued. "And you're still young. You may have these feelings for me now, but what then? What of these feelings in a year from now? Months from now? You do not know what you want--"
"Don't you dare," Eragon seethed quietly, "presume to know what I want." He waited for a reply, but when none came, he continued. "Do you actually believe that I wanted any of this? That I wanted to be pinned against two strong Riders when I'm just now learning how to be one? Do you think I want my cousin to have that haunted look in his eye, or for the man I knew to be my father to be dead because of me?" He advanced on her, but she didn't dare move. "The past year has been a difficult one. But there has been one thing that happened, that I did want." He calmed down and spoke softly. "I fell in love with you, Arya." She took a breath as though she were about to speak, but before she could Eragon said, "My feelings are not due to my age. They are due to the happiest moments of my life: walking through Ellesmera, sailing down Az Ragni, even the moments in which I didn't know you and only saw you in my dreams." He looked down momentarily, taking a hold of her hand and murmured, "I will not hide my feelings anymore, Arya."
He waited for her to react—take her hand away from his, walk away without a word, anything—but no response came. For several long moments he stared down at his feet, waiting for anything.
Finally, a whispered response came. "After."
He snapped his head up see if he really heard her, only to see her looking down as well. "What?"
She slowly raised her head to look into his eyes and continued just as softly as before. "After all of this, after the Varden have won control of the Empire, after Galbatorix has fallen and you have defeated Murtagh…." She looked down again before finishing.
Eragon's patience could not handle the excitement. He bent down to regain eye contact and asked, in a shaky voice, "I may have your hand?"
Arya took a short breath and smiled. "You may have my hand." Before she could take another breath, Eragon had her wrapped tightly in his arms, kissing her once again. Arya let herself revel in her new found love for a moment before gently ending the kiss. "But only after."
Eragon lay his forehead against hers and closed his eyes. He spoke to her in the ancient language then. "Then I will do everything in my power as a Rider, my love, to finish this battle against Galbatorix, so that we can be happy together." They stood like that for a long time, simply losing themselves in each other, never wanting the moment to end. But the moment would end, and Arya began to leave for the evening.
Before stepping out of the tent completely, she turned to Eragon and whispered, "Please don't make me sing myself into a Menoa Tree."
Eragon snorted softly and reassured her, "Have no fear, my love, for I would have Saphira eat my alive before I would ever break your heart."