This is without a doubt the saddest thing I have ever written, as well as the story that I am most proud of. It broke my heart to write it. I will not warn you to not read it, because however much it hurts it is beautiful to me. I do not apologize for any tears shed.
WARNING: slash and incest. If incest or homosexual relationships offend or bother you, please leave. You have been warned. Also: character death and general creepiness. Some strong language.
Disclaimer: I do not own Eragon and am not making money from this in any way, nor am I affiliated with anyone who is.
It started simply, so simply it was ridiculous.
A death. A single absence of life, a single snuffed-out candle, a gasping last breath, and it all came undone – their plans, his plans, his everything. Later, he would remember little of that night – the night of his capture – but the pieces he would remember would be so clear they hurt. The familiar brown eyes, staring in blank surprise; the suddenly limp muscles that had been tense with fear moments before; the silvery sword tip that burst through the skin, dripping dark blood.
The soft groan that echoed through the small inn room they'd stayed at for the night.
The way the sword withdrew from the body, sliding out with a slick, triumphant sound.
The way his companion dropped to the floor with a thump, and simply lay there in an ever-growing pool of blood, still as a corpse.
He only managed to stare in disbelief – no, in horror, in grief, in agony – at the body. He fell to his knees, blue eyes wide, arms limp at his sides when they should have been reaching for the sword buckled at his hip. His hands did not even have the strength to curl into fists of rage. His mind did not have the strength to replace his shock with anger. He barely resisted when they grabbed him, cuffed him, dragged him away.
Into the dungeons of Uru'baen.
The shackles around his wrists bit sharply into his skin, bruising him, but he was unable to do anything about it. He'd already struggled until his wrists bled and his body shook from exhaustion. He couldn't even see – the darkness surrounded him, engulfed him, clogged his throat, filled his ears, pricked at his eyes.
He could do nothing.
How long they left him like that, he didn't know. Days? Months? Years? It felt like forever. He'd expected his captors to inyerrogate and torture him immediately, yet they simply left him alone. Somehow, that was torture of the worst kind. The silence was deafening. It screamed at him, hissing cruel truths into his aching ears. Roran was dead, and it was his fault. He had failed, failed before he'd even reached Helgrind. He had given four simple promises, and broken all of them – Katrina would die in her prison, Elva would be cursed for eternity, and Oromis would remain alone in Ellesmera. And Murtagh…
Murtagh, the prisoner decided, was best forgotten.
These thoughts ate at him and raked long, cruel wounds in his mind, and before long the darkness and silence began to undo him.
His captors didn't even bother to speak to him first. The prisoner simply awoke one day to the sight of a slightly hunched man standing across from him, whip in hand and eyes gleaming cruelly.
And after that… after that was pain. Pain, heat, chains, rats, darkness, horrible cold, choking without air, the smell of burning flesh… screams, agonized shrieks he could barely identify as his. An eternity later, once the prisoner was nearly dead from exhaustion and insane from torture, they left him lying on the floor of the cell.
They had asked no questions, demanded no allegiance; they'd simply tortured him.
He wasn't sure why. Perhaps to give him a taste of what was to come if he refused to swear loyalty to Galbatorix. Perhaps they simply enjoyed make him scream for hours without end. He didn't care.
He just wanted it to never happen again.
When that man visited him for the first time, the prisoner did nothing.
"Eragon," the man said desperately. "What's wrong with you? You just sit there. I'm sick of it. Aren't you sick of it, too – doesn't it make you crazy? Can't you speak? Or is it that you won't?" He paused. The prisoner didn't respond.
"I suppose I can see why not, but I didn't want to do what I did. It wasn't my fault," the man insisted. "Would you at least say something? Fuck, this is driving me crazy. At least look at me, swear at me, threaten me or something!"
The prisoner remained silent.
"This is pathetic," the man snapped. He paced the floor of cell, hands clenched into fists or gesturing sharply as he spoke. "Pathetic! You're a Rider, damn it, Eragon, say something. Don't just sit there. Won't you at least glare at me? Galbatorix hasn't even tortured you personally yet and you're already giving up on everything. Fight, you bastard, fight!"
His voice rose to a crescendo. The prisoner didn't even twitch.
The man almost punched him then and there, but he held back. "Saphira," he said, voice shaking. "Saphira, she must be alive. We didn't capture her, you know. Won't you at least fight for her? Or Arya. Beautiful, fucking stuck-up Arya! Your perfect woman, won't you fight for her? Won't you even fight for yourself?"
The prisoner didn't care; the words barely stung. Arya meant nothing, and Saphira was simply gone.
"No," the man said, voice breaking. "No, you won't. Pathetic. Fucking pathetic! You won't even look at me! Some hero you are, just giving up once you're caught. Just sitting there. Fucking talk back to me!"
The prisoner didn't respond.
The man slumped.
"Please," he whispered. "Eragon, please, just say something."
There was only silence after that, before, finally, the man turned and left. The prisoner watched him go.
It was best to stay silent. The way he found himself thinking about that man sometimes was bad, wrong, disgusting. If he'd spoken, the wrongness might have come tumbling out, and then… then the man would hate him. Silent was safe.
He flinched when the door finally clanged open. Light flooded the once pitch-black cell, stinging his eyes. He shut them tightly as they watered.
"Give me the keys, and be off with you," a cold voice spoke. He stiffened, cracking his eyes open as much as he could through the glare. He could only make out a vaguely human form before he shut his stinging eyes again.
There were footsteps as the person approached. "Well, hello, Shadeslayer," said the cold voice. "I meant to come visit you earlier, but… court affairs and other such things interfered. You understand, of course." Slender fingers, as icy as the voice was, tilted his head upwards. He forced his eyes completely open and blinked at his captor. He shuddered, jerking his head away, when he saw who it was. Galbatorix smiled thinly. "It's good to finally see you face-to-face, boy. Murtagh had told me so much about you."
The prisoner glared, the last bit of defiance in him surfacing at the sight of the mad king.
"Angry, hm?" Galbatorix mused. "Such a foolish, misguided child. I'll make you the same offer I made your brother. You may either join me now, or wait until I convince you." The prisoner spat a curse, and Galbatorix chuckled nastily. "Ah, well. Murtagh didn't agree quickly, either. Time to convince you, then."
Screams echoed throughout the prison for hours. Galbatorix was good at what he did.
The prisoner was aware of nothing until light fingers brushed his shoulder. He jerked away from the touch – had Galbatorix come back to torture him more? He shuddered, wanting to get away from whoever it was, but unable to. He was too badly hurt.
"Eragon," a voice breathed. "Oh, gods above. He didn't kill you, did he?"
Eragon looked upward for an instant. It was the man, hazel eyes fearful. The man looked relieved to see that he was indeed still alive. "Let me see," he said. He tugged on the prisoner's shoulder, and the prisoner obediently rolled over onto his back. He flinched as the open wounds on his back met the dirty stone floor, and the man winced sympathetically.
The man began examined his wounds more closely. "Fuck," he muttered while he did. "You're really cut up. There's no choice, then." The prisoner stiffened, surprised, when the man spoke in the Ancient Language. Cool, numbing relief slid from the man's fingers into the prisoner's skin and through his body. The wounds sealed.
"I can't help you much," the man said, sounding genuinely regretful. "Sorry."
His face was bent over the prisoners, his lips so very close. The forbidden fruit, so enticingly hung before him. The prisoner found himself… tempted.
Then he left, and the prisoner was again left in the darkness by himself.
The prisoner closed his eyes.
Doesn't it make you crazy?
"Insane," the prisoner whispered. Thinking about the man. Thinking about what he'd been thinking about the man…
But those thoughts were wrong, weren't they?
They didn't torture him again soon. The prisoner wasn't sure what he would have done if they had. He wanted nothing more than to give in and swear whatever oath he had to in order to keep the pain from continuing, but he couldn't betray Nasuada or the Varden like that. He refused to give in.
He would endure, for however long it took.
One day – night, maybe? It was impossible to tell time here – he awoke to the sound of many footsteps. He crawled to the door and peered through the slit they pushed food through. A small group of soldiers, including Galbatorix himself and a strange gray-skinned Shade, went past. Gripped firmly between two of the soldiers was a woman. Perhaps it was fate, or perhaps she sensed someone watching her, but she glanced over to his cell, meeting his eyes for a split second. Eragon's heart nearly stopped.
He jerked away from the door.
The footsteps faded away. As they did, the screams began. He shuddered and tried to cover his ears; it didn't help. When he heard footsteps again, morbid curiousity brought him to look through the slot again. He didn't quite comprehend what it meant when he saw a slender, black-haired corpse being carried away by a guard; he didn't want to. He did, however, understand what it meant – that Galbatorix no longer cared for caution. No one, however valuable they were, was safe from him.
Including the prisoner.
The man started to come to him more often. The prisoner found himself craving the man's presence; it was a routine, something to focus on to distract himself from the hopelessness of his situation.
He didn't look up. He remained as he was, leaning against the wall across from the door, no longer chained. Why would he care to answer? The man rarely said anything new. The prisoner didn't understand him; he talked and talked, but the words always remained the unchanged, although the man himself was unpredictable – he was kind and cruel, frustrated and hot-tempered and so very cold.
"Has he broken you so quickly?"
The prisoner shrugged, his first response to any of the man's questions.
"Ah, so you can hear me," the man said. "Good. I was beginning to wonder if this was a one-way conversation. Tell me, do you ever talk at all? How do you stand it?" The prisoner blinked in confusion, looking up at the man in surprise. "All of this," the man explained, gesturing broadly. "How long before you throw yourself at his feet just to escape the pain?"
The prisoner shook his head.
"He'll break you," the man insisted. "He will. He never fails. I know what it's like – he broke me, too. Took him a while, but he still did it. It's not just physical pain, Eragon. He gets in your head. He finds your flaws and exploits them. He listens to your secrets and uses them." He smiled bitterly.
"You haven't changed, Murtagh," the prisoner muttered.
The man froze. He stared at the prisoner is surprise. "You haven't, either," the man finally said, when he recovered from the shock of hearing the prisoner speak for the first time in weeks. "You're still the stubborn idiot you've always been."
The prisoner found himself morbidly curious. "What finally broke you?"
The man hesitated again. Then he moved forward, closer to the prisoner. "Like I said," he muttered. "Secrets. One in particular I didn't know." There was hesitation, frustration, trepidation, then – contact. The man pressed his chapped lips against the prisoner's. For a single instant, things righted themselves in the prisoner's head; then the man was pulling away again, looking guilty. "He told me about how you were my brother," the man said quietly. Then he simply left. Once he was gone, the prisoner touched his lips gingerly and began to think.
Maybe Murtagh was crazy, too, then.
Murtagh did not come to visit him again for what felt like the longest time, and the prisoner found himself with nothing to do but think. What had Murtagh meant? When he wasn't thinking about that, he was distracted by a strange humming in the back of his mind – like there was music nearby that he couldn't quite hear. When the door finally opened, rusty hinges shrieking in protest, the prisoner started and tilted his head to stare at the opening, smiling. The smile vanished when not Murtagh came through, but Galbatorix. The king wasted no time for intimidating glares and silence. "Boy," he said. "I've come to make you the offer again."
The prisoner shook his head coldly. A nasty smile curled Galbatorix's thin lips.
"As you wish," he said, pulling off his gloves. "Let's begin again, then."
Galbatorix left him there on the floor, his body bleeding and his mind reeling. But ever so slowly, the pain receded and was replaced by that low, musical thrum that had been bothering him earlier. His bond, he realized now.
Saphira was nearby; he could feel it. The music and magic in her blood called out to him, seeking him out and demanding he abandon his silence to bask in the warmth of their bond. He wanted, he ached, he craved! He sobbed and writhed on the floor. The unbearable pain of being away from his dragon for so long came crashing down on him as she moved closer, yet remained out of his reach. She was across the nearby mountains, then over a village on the outskirts of Uru'baen, then over the forest, then a lake, then – just outside the castle walls – so very close!
Saphira! he screamed out to her.
Her answering roar filled his entire being, echoing in both his mind and through the castle. Safe, she was there – no, Saphira shouldn't be there, horrible – dangerous, Galbatorix would –
Flashes of a battle flickered before his eyes. A huge black dragon, more mindless animal than actual dragon, dove down from the sky at him/Saphira. A blur of crimson scales as – Thorn? – dove between them – a spurt of blood so hot it steamed in the air, a flash of rending claws – a terrible, inhuman scream as Thorn plummeted to the ground, wounded – a whir of razor-sharp teeth clenching around his/Saphira's neck; then he could feel only pain. There was another scream; no, two. Both he and Saphira were screaming, dying.
Then all was silence. Saphira's music, the part of her that called out to him and bound them together, her magic, vanished. With a final shudder, the prisoner lay still, tears leaking down his cheeks as he mourned the death of his dragon.
"Eragon, talk to me," Murtagh begged.
The prisoner did not reply. He lay on the floor, staring blankly into space. Tears trickled down his cheeks. "Eragon, please," Murtagh whispered. He bent over the prisoner, shaking. His hazel eyes were dark with grief and pain. "Please, please talk to me. Don't… not again. Don't do this again."
The prisoner found himself wondering listlessly why Murtagh cared.
"What do you want me to do?" Murtagh demanded, voice shaking. "What do I have to say to make you talk? Is it what I did? Fuck, that's conceited. Of course that isn't it. Why would you care about a stupid kiss when your dragon's dead?" He laughed brokenly; it came out more like a sob. "Thorn's dead. He bled to death on the ground – he didn't even get to die fighting like he always wanted. He's dead. Why the fuck did that idiot protect her? Shruikan ripped through him like rice paper."
The prisoner closed his eyes. They were the same, weren't they? Brothers, Riders, friends, rivals, equals, and now they were both losing everything. And… maybe those thoughts he had about Murtagh weren't quite so wrong or strange. Maybe they were the same there, too. Maybe Murtagh had those kinds of thoughts as well.
The prisoner opened his eyes and looked up at Murtagh, who stared down at him miserably.
"Be crazy with me?" the prisoner whispered pleadingly.
Something flickered in Murtagh's eyes. Then suddenly it was gone as he bent down, closer, pressing their lips together roughly, no longer kneeling at the prisoner's side but straddling him instead. Eragon, who ceased to be the prisoner in that instant, pulled Murtagh closer and fought to escape his grief, to drown in pleasure. The wetness from his tears was forgotten as pure heat rushed through his veins. It was – wrong – and sinfully wonderful, desperate and anxious. Murtagh groaned softly, and that single noise drove away Eragon's last wisps of reason. Then, all too soon, Murtagh was breaking the kiss. "Screw sanity," he panted.
As Murtagh kissed him a second time, Eragon found himself agreeing.
Screw sanity. Murtagh was much better.
They talked. Words, words, words, whirling around in the air – plans. For escaping. For ending it all. For how they were going to get away clean, and Galbatorix was going to die, and how they were going to go to somewhere far away – across the sea, for forever – where no one knew they were brothers. Where they could live and be happy.
Happy. Eragon hadn't felt that emotion in a long time. He smiled to himself as he sat on the floor of his cell, staring up at the ceiling he couldn't see through the darkness.
Murtagh had left, gone to get things they'd need to escape. Murtagh was going to steal them their freedom. And then everything would be good and Nasuada would be queen – they'd start the new generation of Riders – Saphira and Thorn would have little hatchlings, purple ones and green ones and red ones and blue ones, all tumbling about, learning to fly and breathe fire. And Roran and Katrina would have a huge family, and some of those children would be Riders, too. Roran and Katrina would name the children for their dead family and friends; one would be named Brom, and another Selena, and another Arya…
No, Arya was alive, wasn't she? Yes, she had to be. They were going to meet her when they escaped.
The cell door opened. Murtagh came in, carrying a small green bottle, two goblets, and a large bottle of wine. "I told the guard we were celebrating," Murtagh said, smiling at Eragon. He set the goblets on the floor and crouched next to them. He handed the little green bottle to Eragon, then began to pour the wine into the cups. "I told him to go tell Galbatorix that you've finally decided to offer your fealty," he added while he poured. Eragon smiled faintly. It would be funny to see Galbatorix's face when the king hurried down to the cell, only to find that his two precious Riders were finally free of him.
Eragon took the little green bottle and poured a little of it in each glass. Murtagh watched him do it silently. When Eragon put the stopper back into the bottle and set it aside, Murtagh picked up his cup. "Cheers," he said, raising it in a toast. Eragon raised his goblet as well, and they both drank.
Murtagh set his cup down and crawled over to Eragon. Languidly, they kissed. "What'll you think it'll feel like when we get there?" Eragon murmured.
"Warm and quiet," Murtagh said. He shivered. "It's kind of… cold in here, isn't it?"
Eragon nodded. He slid down so that he was lying on the floor instead of sitting. Murtagh chuckled. "Tired?" he asked. His voice was slurred. Eragon nodded slowly; it was difficult to stay awake all of a sudden. Murtagh curled up next to him and draped his cloak across them both. He wrapped his arms around Eragon protectively. "'m a little tired, too," he muttered.
Eragon closed his eyes and fell asleep to the sound of Murtagh's heartbeat slowly fading away to nothing.