Disclaimer: Just no.
Red eyes and tear-stained cheeks, and stains of blood and dirt unwashed from hours ago, back pressed against a smooth scaly leg and one arm holding his forehead.
Shirt torn in six places, a wound to his stomach that festered with the passing hours, a sapphire blue sword stuck point first into the ground, a pile of dulled, sullied armour discarded in the dirt.
Everything splattered with thin blood, and he still wasn't moving.
You need to heal yourself, little one.
But he didn't move, because in his mind there was little that could be healed.
This is pointless. They are dead. We are not. Do not mourn for them.
A shift in the leg he was leaning on, and he suddenly shook violently, moving his hand for a minute and exposing the light scent of fresh tears to the young dragon.
"We're alone," he said quietly, moving his bowed head to the side slightly to do so, and she couldn't help but quieten at the words, the understanding dawning. There was a short silence before she dared to reply.
Perhaps, was her lenient reply. Alone, yes. In the sense of dragons and riders as opposed to abominations. Then again, perhaps we, too, are abominations. We are in no sense normal, after all. And we'll never be alone, Eragon, for we'll always have each other. Friends will pass, family, but you and I will live on beyond that. We'll look back to them, to our friends, to our masters, and we'll remember. We'll be sad and lonely, Eragon, yes, she told him gently. But we'll survive.
"How can you be sure?" he asked quietly, in a voice that half-cracked and was half-unheard.
Because that is what dragons and their riders do, she said softly. We survive.
"Through time, and pain, and agony, and misery?"
Pain and agony are the same thing, little one.
"Fine. Through time, pain, and misery?"
We may not like it, Eragon, we may not be happy, and we may not be flying, victorious, courageous, she told him matter-of-factly. But we survive.
There was a short silence before he laid his head back on her leg and stared up at the stars tiredly. "So we survive, then, Saphira," he voiced distantly. "And we go on, together, while everyone else dies, we kill the tyrant king, we lose our happiness, our feeling, our friends, ourselves, but we live on. We save everyone else at our own expense. What a wonderful future."
"…That better have been sarcasm."
"And that was sarcasm," he continued derisively. She snorted.
Sarcasm is better than grieving, little one. Now isn't the time. Now we rest, and many a tomorrow we go to war. When we win, Eragon, whether or not we lose ourselves, then we mourn.
"But we don't mourn now?"
No. We do not.
He barely even caught the sense of someone coming up beside him in the silence that followed, turning his head slightly to see Arya's slender form taking a seat beside him, eyes closed, just as battle worn, dirt streaked visage also tear stained. The question of why she was there barely even registered in his mind before she shook her head ever so slightly, simply dissuading. He sighed, looking back up to the black sky and the stars and sinking into yet another short silence.
"You've been crying," Arya commented softly after several minutes, earning little more than another soft sigh and a barely-even-there brush of his fingers against hers, maybe accidental, maybe not. He barely even whispered a reply, leaving her almost as emotionless as ever.
"So have you."
Smoothened water, blue in all directions, light down, dark up. Calm and quiet, and nothing but the slowly growing burn in the back of his throat. He wished for little more than this – serene nothingness. None of the troubles of real life could touch him here. Not until he needed to breathe. And yet, this was where he could catch his breath.
The burn steadily increased, insistent, and he slowly turned in place, floating slowly back up to the surface, only to drift on the plane of the small lake, ignoring the feeling of the cool water on the bare skin of his torso and closing his eyes, breathing deeply.
With a slight sigh he made his way back to shore, easing into his new sense of cleanliness, all the grime and blood from the days before washed away. He moved to sit on the rocky shore, looking out to the water again for a moment before rolling his head on his neck a couple of times and closing his eyes with his head tilted back, feeling the cool breeze rushing over his wet skin.
There was a small crunching sound before he felt someone sit down beside him, and he barely even cracked an eye open to see who it was, already having an inkling.
"May I ask you something, Shadeslayer?"
He let out a slow breath before replying quietly. "Go ahead," he murmured gently in reply, listening to the elf's velvet words. She hesitated for a moment before continuing.
"Why do you… not mourn…?" she asked quietly. "It seems almost as though you feel no pain for their death, where you once called me cold…" He stayed quiet for several minutes, thinking over her words while the air around them seemed to get tense as she realised that she'd phrased her words badly – possibly offensively. She was to the point of fidgeting, some several minutes later, when he finally answered.
"I will not mourn until there is time to truly do so," he replied tersely, and Arya blinked slightly, moving her eyes from the ground to his form beside her, staring at his closed eyes.
"That isn't healthy, Eragon."
"We're in war," he answered lithely. "Healthy isn't particularly necessary."
Somewhere along the way the voices had turned to a low buzz in his ears and his eyes had fallen closed. He could see the patterns of lights behind his eyelids; hear their heartbeats behind the drone of their empty, bandying words and the sound of the wind rushing past the tent from outside. He cracked his neck slightly, and the droning stopped.
"Are we boring you, Eragon?" came Nasuada's stiff, irritated voice. She'd noted his inattentiveness, clearly, and she wasn't happy. He merely sighed to himself.
"There are four people supposed to be in this conversation, Lady Nasuada, and they all know each other well enough to skip the empty words and the pleasantries," he replied dully, and he could almost hear the stiffening of her posture at the words and at the tone. He opened his eyes. "Forgive me if it strikes me as little more than a waste of time."
Nasuada's replying glare was more than satisfactory – or, would have been if it weren't Eragon who received it. Orrin and Arya had both gone deathly quiet at the words.
"What are you saying, Eragon?"
"I'm saying, my lady, that it's about time we all cut the meaningless, foolish things we've been wasting our time saying, and get down to business," he replied harshly. "Now what do you want me to do?"
He ignored Arya's intent, calculating gaze, and Orrin's reasonably placed "perhaps not the most courteous way to say it, but he does have a point", steely eyes only for Nasuada. She pursed her lips in thought and sighed, waving a hand.
"Take a holiday," she said simply, turning back to Orrin only to see his doubtful expression.
"Why!" Eragon asked loudly, disbelieving. "You said the other day we're going to take siege on Belatona!"
"I know I did, we can do this one without you," she answered quaintly. "You're clearly irritable, angry, and still grieving. We can't have that, even if it has only been a couple of days. I'm recommending that you go for your master's funeral… or whatever it is that you do, and fix yourself up. Come back when you're ready."
"I'm fine now."
"No, you're not. You're angry and you're grieving whether or not you choose to accept it. And it isn't healthy," she said quickly, and Eragon saw Arya sigh in his peripheral vision. "So be off with you. Come back in two or three weeks." There was a small pause in which Eragon stared blankly at her and she stared right back, a daring gleam in her eyes. "In fact, Arya can go with you. Then she can make sure you don't do anything in any way related to the Varden, or any battle that may be optional."
"Arya's not a babysitter, my liege," he drawled slowly. "She's a highly trained warrior, diplomat, and an elf. And she's in no way yours to order. It might be kind to ask."
"I wouldn't recommend you take that tone with me again, Eragon."
"You're sending me away, I don't think I mind." And then he turned on his heel and left the tent, not a word more spoken in that time. He made his way through the camp to his own tent, letting the flap close behind him.
What are we doing, little one?
He grumbled slightly in the back of his throat, pulling his armour off tiredly before he answered.
We're going to bury Oromis and Glaedr. We've been… granted leave.
In other words, yes.
He sighed, stacking his armour on the end of the small cot, and dragging out his pack. He dumped it on the bed, and then scrabbled up his clean clothes, packing them in quickly. He was in the process of changing his shirt when he heard the rustle of the tent flap opening, footsteps too light to be human making their way in behind him.
"Eragon, I-" her voice cut off abruptly and he barely even turned to see the elf at the entry. "I apologize, I should have… called out or something?"
"No worry," he replied with a bare shrug of his shoulders before pulling the crisp white shirt over his head. He turned to view her curiously while he pulled on his tunic. "You were saying?"
"I may agree with more than half of what you said in there, but it doesn't particularly mean it was a good idea to say it," she continued dryly, looking off to the side slightly, an uncommon flush of red to her cheeks. Had it been anyone else, Eragon would've thought them to be embarrassed. But this was Arya, and she didn't get embarrassed, let alone show embarrassment.
"Someone had to," he replied. There was a short silence while she finally looked back up to him, and his eyes darkened considerably. He turned back to his bag, continuing his packing, and before he knew it she was at his side, one hand on his shoulder.
"She's correct in thinking you need a break, you know."
"That doesn't make it any easier, Arya. Saphira told me that I'm not supposed to grieve now. I save it until the war's over and done. And it doesn't matter that by then I'll be a broken mess, I just have to wait until then."
"Why?" she asked him quietly. "Why do you have to wait? When no one else does?"
"Because I'm me. Because I'm a rider. Because if I give into any of it, then who does everyone else look to?" He paused for a moment, before continuing in a partly bitter tone. "I shouldn't grieve, or get angry, or seclude myself, I shouldn't let my problems show, I should always keep it to myself. I have to maintain the illusion for the rest of them that I'm strong enough, because…"
None of the rest matters, Saphira finished for him. Arya sighed. All we have to do is survive.
When they flew, it was in silence.
Saphira would manoeuvre in ways only Eragon could comprehend, initially making Arya sick – she wasn't used to relaxed flights and the foolishness the young dragon brought to them. Later, she would grow used to it – the twirls, the spins, the gut-wrenching dives. And, eventually, she would open her mind to them with an unasked question – she wanted to know how they felt when they soared, and they would only ever agree to show her, melding their thoughts together.
When they camped, it was with stories.
It started with his asking about her lost friends – from before their meeting, before Durza. She told him of her time carrying Saphira's egg, her adventures with her two Elvin companions, her original disagreement with her mother, and, gingerly, her relationship with the late Faölin. To this, and to her confusion, he would only smile knowingly and shrug at her questioning stare.
Then he'd tell her tales of Carvahall – his friends, his family, his life on the farm – and all his journeys since, with or without her, and Saphira would put in comments here and there. Arya would find herself captivated – his life, though so far short and mortal, was full of hectic, chaotic and capturing events pushed into such a small amount of time, and his experiences were becoming, quickly, as many as hers. It helped, very much so, that he had the same talent of spinning already good stories to enthralling proportions as his father had.
But even Brom never caught her attention so.
It was a huge ceremony when they made it. The bodies had been cleaned, laid at the very edge of a clear river. Even lifeless, Glaedr sparkled like the sun, and Oromis retained all elements that made him Elvin, made him true.
Eragon stared, a sinking feeling in his gut – he should have been there, should have stopped this tragedy, should've taken the fall. And, ignored by Eragon, the many elves had their cold glares directed at him, because they believed it too.
For the first time in days that felt like years, he felt his own tears fall – because they, once-more father figures, were dead, again, and he could have stopped it, if only he weren't days away with the Varden. He felt Arya's hand on his shoulder, and when he turned to see her she looked torn – trying to hold her distant façade for the crowd, trying to play strong while all the emotions burned her up inside.
And the longer they stood there, while the elves started their mourning songs and set magic flames on the funeral pyre holding the bodies, the worse she got. She couldn't hold it in this time. She couldn't be strong.
Tears fell freely from her, not as much from him. Both joined their voices to the sound, both watched mentors and friends as they burned. And all too soon, the rest of the elves were dissipating stiffly – grudges with the blue rider clear, mourning for their own. Eragon and Arya were left alone with the still-burning fire.
He stared as she hugged herself, wondering, perhaps what she was feeling that had her acting this way. As if in answer to his unspoken question, her mind brushed briefly against his, filling him with her torrent of emotions to couple with his. Confusion, anger, and misery…
He locked gazes with her, searching her emerald gaze for a moment before she opened her mouth and quiet, strained words slipped out.
"I'm sick of pretending," she said, and it was enough to have him pulling her into his arms before the tears came. She didn't resist the comfort, rather the opposite, arms circling his waist, burying her face into his tunic while he rubbed her back gently and stared at the golden flames and burning bodies. It was the first time he realised she couldn't be strong all the time, not anymore.
Now it was his turn.