Disclaimer: I do not own Paolini's characters. The rest is mine.
Warning: Language (!)
A/N: Yet another plot bunny come to life, settled in an alternative universe. Finally something with several chapters again.
The not-so-nice guy in my story I called Steve, as 'Galbatorix', for example, would not have fitted for someone going to high school. At least, in the US. However, if there had been high schools in Gaul… Anyways, as always, I also differ from the book when it comes to looks. EraMur look like they do in the movie... kind of.
A noise in the night
Murtagh closed the magazine he had been reading and dropped his pen on the desk. He yawned for what felt like minutes, stretching his arms high in the air. Then he threw a glance at his oversized Mickey Mouse wall clock that had been with him since childhood, noticing that midnight had long passed. He sighed and decided he had done enough for today. Politics – though his favourite subject – was a different matter in college than it had been at school. It often kept him up longer than he wanted and tonight had been no exception.
Suddenly he shuddered. He had changed into boxers and T-shirt hours ago, when the plan had still been to simply take a tiny look on what Time Magazine had to say on the topic of his upcoming examination. Now the chill creeping in through the tilted window made him yearn for warm covers. He chose to ignore the messy desk and headed straight for his bed. With two swift strides he reached his destination, and only when his feet slowly began to warm up did he realize that not only his desk light was still burning, but also the stereo was still broadcasting a late night program of rock music. With a grunt, Murtagh got up again and tip-toed over to the lamp to turn it off. On his way back to warmth he grabbed the remote control for the stereo, which had settled itself on the bookshelf next to the door, naturally as far away from the bed as possible. When back in bed, he turned down the music until it was barely audible, intending to go to sleep while listening to it.
Having a place to himself was something he relished in everyday, because although he was living in a dormitory, he was still able to pretty much do whatever he wanted, including his beloved habit of leaving the radio on at night. His fellow students had eyed him pitifully at the start of the term, now he was being envied by most.
Murtagh closed his eyes, listening to orchestrated versions of rock balllads. It was not what he usually chose, but for the moment it was perfect.
However, a while later he was still wide awake, wondering about what was different that night from other nights. He could not come up with a satisfying answer.
He shifted a little and tried another spot on his mattress, mulling over what could possibly be bothering him. For once he was not behind on the learning schedule he had set himself, and his long term history project was also halfway done. Or rather, his part was, as he knew he would have to remind Thorn about two weeks before the due date that there was actually a project to do. Best friend or no, telling Thorn now would do no good, as he would just dismiss the news with a wide grin. The thought made Murtagh smile. Thorn was smart, true, but even that could not explain how someone with such extreme laziness had managed to graduate, let alone be accepted at any college.
No, on the professional side of life everything was going just fine. Stressful, but fine.
Love life, then… well, there was no love life right now. Hence, that did not keep him awake either. Not even the soft tunes reaching his ears made him regret the current status; he was very well off on his own at the moment. So the only thing left was… family.
At this thought Murtagh stirred uncomfortably. He had meant to call on his mother and brother all week, but had not found the time and peace of mind to do so. So now it had almost been two weeks since last he talked to them, and even if that was not too much time by his reckoning, he knew that in the ever eventful life of Eragon it was a long period. He began to worry. What if something had happened?
Murtagh recalled that Arya, mutual friend of both his brother and him, had labelled the current love interest of Eragon a callous idiot. Back then Murtagh had laughed, replying that she must be exaggerating. His brother was naïve, true, and often acted before thinking, yet he had also a good sense of judging personalities.
No, this could not be the problem, Murtagh thought, but some uneasiness remained.
Then what else? Eragon was gay, after all, as was Murtagh, yet college and high school were two different worlds. And even back in school no one had dared so much as to whisper about the older Rider's orientation, as something about his person always made others respect him. He did not know exactly what it was, but remembered Arya also having found a term for it: Grim Reaper without scythe. This, now, was a total overstatement, and in her defence Murtagh would always say that she had been overly tired the night telling him, but still… Yes, he liked dark clothes, although not only black, and yes, he did not exactly laugh all day long. But that was about it. He did not wear hooded cloaks, had most definitely no connection whatsoever with death, and was also rather well built and not just a skeleton.
Arya. Weird creature, but a good friend nonetheless.
But then, his brother had always been somewhat protected by his presence, as everyone knew they not only shared the name but also deep affection. What most did not know, though, was that this ended whenever the younger tried to accompany the older to a party. Murtagh would have none of that.
So what if now that he was gone someone at school had started to stir up trouble? Murtagh's heart accelerated at this thought. Eragon, though popular with most, was pretty much defenceless when trouble came his way, especially in the form of people not liking him and voicing that aloud. Then again, it was January, if anything of this kind had happened since summer Murtagh would have long since heard.
And anyways, he tried to calm himself, if anything had happened, one of the two, Eragon or Selena, would have called him right away. Even though tight schedules allowed usually only for one family dinner to take place every month, he did not live far away from home; Daret was only about thirty miles from Carvahall. They would always call, knowing he did not want to be left out, and also knowing he would race his car home if they needed him.
Murtagh sighed. He had to rest, and as he could not come up with anything that was wrong, he was truly annoyed at his inability to sleep.
After almost another hour had passed he had finally come to a state of semi-awake, his mind already dreaming. Deep in his unconscious, though, he noticed a strange rhythm in Gun's Roses' November Rain all of a sudden, some irregularity of the percussionist. When it happened a second time a few moments later, he was fully awake again. Cursing heavily he reached for the remote, yet his hand stopped in mid-air when the noise occurred again, clearly not coming from the speakers.
Murtagh sat up in bed and shook his head. Had anything been wrong with the sandwich he had eaten earlier? His eyes, accustomed to the dark, took in every detail of his room, which was lit by the moonlight slanting through the window. Maybe a mouse somewhere?
There was the sound – again. Three rhythmic beats with a pause after each. Nothing was moving in the room. But now Murtagh knew where it was coming from. His ears, freed from his pillow, could locate it properly and the logical part of his mind told him that someone was throwing stones at his window. However, that was also the most ridiculous thing he could think of. He was not Juliet, and there was no potential Romeo that could be outside.
Still, someone had decided to bother him, and in such a way that he had to get up and could not just grab his phone. With another curse on his lips he swung his legs off his bed and scuffled over to the window.
First he saw only the silvery illuminated leaves of the oaks in front of the building and further away the shadow of a cat, which avoided the cone of light of a street lamp, hurrying with its business as it was a frosty night.
"Murtagh!" It was an urgent whisper.
Murtagh immediately pressed his forehead to the glass, and there, below his window, someone was standing. A guy. And Murtagh knew right away who. He quickly opened the window and leaned over the sill. "Eragon! Are you crazy? What the hell are you doing here?" His brother was supposed to be fast asleep in Carvahall at the moment.
"Hey, can I come in?" Eragon was swaying lightly and did not sound his normal self.
"Sweet Jesus! Are you drunk?" The miraculous appearance itself had Murtagh worried already, this realization was even more alarming.
"Just a little." That was an obvious lie. "Please, Murtagh, let me in. I'm cold." Eragon shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Please."
"Of course. Wait at the main door, I'll be there in a second." Murtagh grabbed a sweater and slipped into his sneakers, then took his keys and hurried out of his room. He almost ran down the hallway and the staircase leading to the entrance on ground level, thinking that the bad feelings that had kept him from sleeping had not just been imagination. So far, Eragon had visited him only once before in the ongoing semester – in broad daylight, on a date fixed weeks earlier. Something was up.
He arrived at the glass door and waved at his brother, who waved happily back, a rather dumb smile on his face. Without turning on the light, Murtagh unlocked the door and pulled the youth inside.
"Murtagh!" Eragon sounded relieved and threw himself right at his brother, hugging him tightly. "I'm sorry, really, you were right, I'm drunk. Don't be mad." He was not exactly quiet.
"Hush," Murtagh ordered nd held the younger one close for a moment, then hurried back the way he had come, Eragon close at his heels. When they were almost at the room, the sound of footsteps other than his own stopped, forcing Murtagh to turn around.
Eragon smiled stupidly yet again and pointed at Murtagh. "You're just wearing your boxers, did you know that?" He began to giggle. "I thought this was a decent place and-"
"Quiet, Eragon!" Murtagh pulled him into his room and only when the door was closed did he relax a little. Now at least they would not wake anyone. "This is indeed a decent place, but even here people sleep at night." His tone was harsher than he had intended to.
"Oh." Eragon stayed where he was, standing in front of the door, and his shoulders dropped. He averted Murtagh's gaze and looked to the floor. His lower lip began to tremble. "You are mad at me. I'm sorry. Please, I… I did not know where else to go."
"Shut up and come here." Murtagh switched on a reading lamp, turned off the radio, and sat down on his bed, pointing next to him. When Eragon had come over, still looking anywhere but at his brother, he laid his arm around the younger one's shoulders. "I'm not mad, little one. And I've told you that I'm always there for you if you need me, or if there's no other place to go. I'm just wondering what you're doing here, away from home, in the middle of the night…" He did not finish the sentence, noticing something else. "You're freezing! Did you walk here?"
Eragon nodded, still fighting the sadness that wanted to surface. "I-I… there was this party, see? I didn't mean to come here, originally I wanted to… well, and then it went all wrong and I thought I could maybe come here, but somehow there was no money left in my wallet, so I could not take a cab…"
Murtagh tried to rub the younger one warm, at least parts of the back and the shoulders. "Why didn't you call me? You know that after yelling at you I would have picked you up."
"The batteries of my cell gave up on me." For the first time Eragon met Murtagh's eyes, his own glinting wet in the light.
Murtagh pulled him close again, stroking the soft hair on Eragon's head. "My poor, little boy," he cooed half jokingly in a perfect imitation of what their mother had used to say when they were little and had hurt themselves. "Let's get you to bed, shall we? Then we'll talk."
Eragon only nodded once more and carefully rose to his feet. Then he stopped and turned to face his brother. "I've got nothing with me." He looked devastated. "How…?"
Murtagh stood up as well and pushed Eragon in the direction of the adjoining little bathroom. "There is a spare toothbrush in the cabinet below the sink, and I'm sure I'll find some shirt for you to wear."
"Okay." Eragon staggered towards the door.
Five minutes later he emerged again, hair partly wet, looking somewhat refreshed. Murtagh handed him an old Batman T-shirt and Eragon undressed clumsily, almost falling in the process. "Too much," he mumbled, fumbling with his shoes.
"Damn you, Eragon, what did you drink?" Murtagh forced his brother to sit down and peeled him from his clothes, then froze for an instant. "Blood? What the-? Are you injured?" He stared at a scratch on the left leg.
"Huh? Oh that." Eragon was unconcerned. "I didn't even know it had bled. Here," he showed Murtagh his hand, "there was some blood, too, I washed it off. Only gashes, though," he added quickly when he saw his brother glowering, "don't worry about those. As for the drinks…hmm." He thought hard for a moment. "First some beer, of course, and then… some shots, I think, Tequila, and then…uhh…"
"Arms up!" Murtagh commanded, Batman ready at hand.
Eragon obeyed, probably not even aware that he let himself be treated like a toddler. "Well, I know at some point there was wine, I don't even like wine, but there was some and I drank it, but still… something is missing…ouch! What was that for?" He came back to the present and glared at his brother who had just hit him forcefully on the back of his head.
"If this was a bad joke I could perhaps laugh, but you must be out of your mind. Getting drunk, alright, not good, but it happens. Wasting yourself like this, drinking away your brain… I feel like truly beating you up right now, understand me?" Murtagh was angry, not only at his brother, also at himself. When he had still lived at home it had never gotten out of hand like this. What had happened these past six months?
Eragon was by now cowering on the bed, arms pulled tightly around his legs, making himself as small as possible. "I never planned to, really, it just… happened. Nobody stopped drinking, and somehow there was always something in my hand. Someone had… probably Steve-"
"Steve?" Murtagh was towering in front of his brother, shivering in the cold air, but not yet willing to stop the interrogation and settle in his bed.
"Yeah, Steve." Silence. "Oh my God, Steve!" Suddenly Eragon looked at Murtagh and his self-control finally lost the battle. Tears started to well up in his eyes, before he dropped his head on his knees. "No…no…" he sobbed.