Disclaimer: I don't own Eragon or anything associated with the Inheritance Cycle.
Claimer: I, SussieKitten, own this plot and the story. Borrow or steal my plot, my original characters or story and I will report you. I also own my version of Thorn/Saphira/Shruikan/Glaedr's human appearances.
Warnings: Male homosexuality. Female homosexuality. Heterosexuality. Reference to Drugs. Obvious hints at Trafficking - human and otherwise. References to Underage Violation/Rape. If any of this disturbs you, click on the "back" button. I won't tolerate any flames.
A/N Here it is; the very last chapter of Down the Barrel of a Gun. Brace yourselves, though, because this is a long one. I had a few loose ends to tie up and some matters to settle. Hopefully this is a much more satisfying ending that chapter 14 would have been on its own.
As always, all my love goes out to the people that are still reading my works. You guys are simply the best. :)
And also be warned; this is self-betaed.
Down the Barrel of a Gun
JOINT FBI/CIA OPERATION SHUTS DOWN CRIME ORGANISATION
After more than two decades of gathering evidence, a joined FBI and CIA sting finally took down the major crime organisation known as the Forsworn. The Forsworn is known for drug and human trafficking, kidnapping, racketeering, murder for hire, and forced prostitution, to name but a few of the charges.
Today, the case has gone to trial with more than 100 defendants both from Alagaësia and Surda. Among them are government officials, politicians and high-profile businessmen.
The prosecutor's witnesses are rumoured to include agents that risked their lives to go undercover as well as former Forsworn members that have had a chance of heart.
Trials were a fucking nuisance, Murtagh had decided. He'd only been to the one, but that was more than enough for him.
He'd fully expected the trial to go on forever. Rex, as it turned out, was a prominent businessman and certainly had the money to throw around to try to get himself off the hook. Too bad they had twenty years of dirt on him and his crime syndicate.
The trial ended with the bang of the judge's hammer and the whimper from a member of the audience. Someone related to one of the victims, probably.
During the course of the trial, Murtagh learned that Shruikan Darc – whose testimony almost single-handedly gave the prosecution their case – had agreed to turn State's Evidence. In turn that meant that he was given a far more lenient sentence. He hadn't tried to bargain for immunity and Murtagh thought that too said a lot about Darc's character.
A part of Murtagh was glad on his behalf. For all that Darc had no doubt done terrible things in the Forsworn, he had shown his colours when it truly mattered. And the cynical side of Murtagh thought it was fortunate he'd been granted the deal, otherwise the characteristics Darc shared with the FBI's director and the judge would no doubt have made for a very rough time in prison – no matter the length of his sentence.
One of the things Murtagh loathed – apart from bigotry, all kinds of violation, human trafficking and murder – was the obvious hostility against people that looked like they came from the other side of the Hadarac Desert. It disgusted him.
He wasn't sure what was going to happen to Darc now. A commuted sentence, most likely, in a prison that was both capable of holding him in and protecting him from further harm.
Murtagh wished them the best of luck with that.
Durstan waited exactly 24 hours after the trial before contacting him. The phone call was fairly innocuous. Did Murtagh want to meet up for a drink now that the horrible chapter was behind them?
Murtagh had seen his fair share of mind-numbing substances in the Forsworn. He countered with dinner.
Durstan, a little surprisingly, agreed.
They met at a small mom & pop diner not far from the motel Murtagh was staying at, courtesy of the Bureau. He hadn't quite decided what to do yet; whether resuming his life in Carvahall felt like returning to himself or putting on yet another mask. (Most days, it felt more like the latter than the former.)
Durstan showed up looking like he hadn't slept in approximately three days and like he hadn't seen a razor in twice that long. Murtagh asked him if he wouldn't rather go home and sleep. Durstan didn't give him anything in the way of an actual answer. In fact, Durstan didn't say much until he'd downed a cup of coffee without waiting for it to cool. At least he looked a little more alert afterwards. And once he was awake, Durstan was clearly intent on giving Murtagh his full attention.
To say the food was greasy and likely to give him heartburn well before he reached thirty would have been an understatement. It was still the best goddamn meal Murtagh had eaten in a long time. From the look on Durstan's face, he felt the same way.
And yet they barely finished it.
They ended up in the motel. Murtagh's guards – because the Director had insisted on those, even now that the trial was official over – got a show that night.
Logically, Murtagh knew their earlier trysts had been hurried but they hadn't felt that way. Now, though, Durstan was clearly intent on taking his time. They kept going long into the night, much longer than Murtagh would have thought they'd last. He knew he'd be sore for days and couldn't find it in himself to care.
After all of that, and in spite of what Durstan had once told him, Murtagh expected him to be long gone by the time he woke up. Mysteriously, though, Durstan had stayed. Murtagh could tell because fingers were stroking along his side like they could brush away hurts long since healed.
Murtagh threw an arm over his eyes so he didn't have to open them and see...what, the morning light? Durstan's (hopefully) ridiculous bedhead? The look in his eyes? He wasn't sure.
"Were you watching me sleep?"
"Not for long." The lack of rust in Durstan's voice called him out on the lie.
Durstan didn't contradict him. His fingers had turned into his whole hand making itself comfortable on Murtagh's hip.
"You have a thing for my hips," Murtagh accused him.
Durstan brushed his thumb over the hip-bone. "They're nice hips."
He didn't contradict Murtagh on that either.
Murtagh had almost allowed himself to be lulled back to sleep by the sweeping motion of Durstan's thumb when Durstan spoke again.
"I meant what I said."
"When?" Murtagh moved his arm enough that he could see Durstan's face. "Because you were saying an awful lot last night."
Durstan leered faintly at him.
Murtagh pinched his hand before it could travel further than the small of his back.
Durstan laughed and pulled him closer. He buried himself in Murtagh's neck and started mouthing at what Murtagh knew were the marks he'd left the night before. "I want to court you," he said after he'd worried at least three of however many marks Murtagh currently had.
Murtagh couldn't stop himself. He started laughing.
Durstan bit him a little harder in warning. When that still didn't make Murtagh stop, he rolled them over until he was on top.
"I'm sorry," Murtagh snickered, "but you sounded so sincere."
"You're an ass," Durstan drawled.
"But you like my ass."
Durstan's pupils expanded even as he glared down at Murtagh.
"All right, all right," he heard himself say. He put his arms around Durstan's neck and pulled him close enough to nip at his mouth. "Go ahead. Do your worst."
Murtagh hadn't been expecting to walk out of a nightmare that had almost swallowed him twice with something that almost felt like friends.
Nasuada stayed stubbornly in touch with him to the point where she practically hunted him down if he didn't answer the phone within a set time-frame. Thorn also reached out frequently. That was how he came back to the motel one day covered in orange hairs from Thorn's cat and caused Durstan to almost have an asthma attack from laughing too much.
Murtagh rewarded him by kicking him the fuck out.
The incident did make him realise he needed to decide whether he was settling down in the town or not. If nothing else, he wouldn't feel terrible about leaving a mountain of cat hair for himself to clean up. The (no doubt) underpaid cleaning staff, however...
He turned to Thorn and Nasuada for help with finding a place. It didn't feel right to ask Durstan.
Between the three of them, they managed to do a whole lot more than Murtagh had been planning. In less than a month he had his legal name changed again, drew up a lease for an apartment and had what little he cared for in Carvahall shipped over with just a few phone calls. He'd already quit his job when he left the city the first time and didn't really have anyone he considered friends up there, so he wasn't too sad to officially leave the place behind.
He hadn't been to any job interviews yet, but he was actively looking for work.
Arya, on one of the days she'd deigned to help out, had joked that he should try out for the Bureau. Murtagh had told her they couldn't afford him, but it had made him think. With his background, going into any kind of law-enforcement was a disaster waiting to happen. But that didn't mean he couldn't give back in other ways.
"One of these days you have to tell me about how you managed to capture Shruikan Darc," Murtagh said as they carried in the last of the boxes.
Thorn cleared his throat. "I believe I already told you."
Murtagh snorted. "Sure. Like he just walked up to you in a coffee shop and asked you to handcuff him."
Murtagh stared at him. "Pull the other one, why don't you?"
Thorn just shook his head and put down the box he'd been carrying. "Nothing I say is going to make you believe me, is it?"
Murtagh put his box next to Thorn's and looked around the small apartment he was now free to call home – at least for a while.
"Is that the last of it?" Thorn looked around like it would magically spawn a few more items.
The apartment, luckily, came fully furnished. Murtagh would have to replace anything he broke, be it dishes or a chair, but he didn't mind. It saved him from having to go out and buy a bed, a couch, etc.
"Yeah. Told you I didn't have much."
Thorn looked as sad as the day Murtagh had first told him that.
Murtagh shrugged. "I've started over more than once. I know better than to hold onto unnecessary items."
"Still." Thorn looked vaguely sceptical. "Six boxes?"
Murtagh nodded. "A few books, some clothes, toiletries, a novelty mug or two and a few things from my adoptive parents I didn't want to get rid of."
Thorn blinked in what had to be surprise. "...Novelty mug?"
"Hey. Don't you dare make fun of my What About Second Breakfast?-mug." He pointed at Thorn. "That's a deal-breaker."
Thorn's mouth twitched faintly. "Duly noted."
"Now come on and help me unpack these boxes." Murtagh started to nudge the one marked 'clothes' over towards the bedroom.
Thorn eyed him bemusedly, likely because Murtagh just couldn't be fucked to pick it back up again.
"What, too lazy to do it yourself?"
"Hey, you were the one that offered to help me on your day off," Murtagh reminded him. "I'm just taking advantage of the help offered."
Thorn sighed again. "I knew I was going to regret that."
Murtagh smirked at him. "Then you only have yourself to blame!"
Thorn just groaned. He picked up the other box labelled 'clothes' and carried it over to the bedroom, eyeing Murtagh pointedly as he walked past.
Murtagh just nudged his along with his foot. He was quite happy where he was.
"Why do you keep calling me Durstan?"
Because after calling the man Durza for the better part of a year, it felt weird to switch and call him Carsaib. Murtagh knew it shouldn't. He'd easily shed Murtagh after getting out of Forsworn for the first time and started responding to Gareth with little to no fuss.
But it still felt weird. He couldn't even think of the other man as 'Carsaib.' It just didn't quite...suit him, maybe. And while Murtagh was discovering he was more than a bit of an asshole, he wasn't the kind that told people they didn't suit their given names. So he shrugged and said, "No reason. I can call you Carsaib if you'd like."
Durstan stared at him. "Say that again."
Murtagh cocked an eyebrow, but did as asked. "No reason -"
Murtagh narrowed his eyes at him. "...Carsaib?"
Durstan kept staring for a long time before shaking his head. "...No, you know what, it's too weird."
Murtagh tried not to start laughing. "I feel like I should tell you I told you so, but -"
"You didn't, in fact, tell me anything at all," Durstan drawled.
"I was trying to be nice!" Murtagh protested.
"Don't," Durstan told him. "It doesn't suit you."
"Fine then." He crossed his arms. "Get fucked."
Durstan hummed. "Not 'fuck you?'"
"You'd take it as an invitation," Murtagh deadpanned.
Durstan smirked at him. "Damn right I would."
"So. Get fucked," he repeated.
"All right." Durstan shrugged, looking completely unfazed. "Fancy helping me out?"
Murtagh glared at him.
Durstan just shrugged again. "All right." He stood up, brushed himself off and started walking towards the front door like he was actually planning on leaving.
"Oh, get back here you fucking drama queen," Murtagh called after him. They only had so much time together, what with how insane Durstan's work-schedule was. He could disappear for days – even a week or two – at a time and then appear at Murtagh's door (sometimes without calling ahead) and then barely leaving for the next forty-eight hours.
Murtagh would question why Durstan didn't just call him over to his place, but he'd been to Durstan's apartment. It was large, sure, with floor-to-ceiling windows and an open-plan living area, but everything in it was sparse, monochrome and just felt cold. Murtagh's, while smaller, at least managed to look and feel lived-in.
"So you're going to let me fuck you after all?" Durstan called back.
"...That's it." Murtagh got up and cracked his knuckles. "You're on. And you're going down."
Durstan just grinned at him. "Bring it on."
"I think I need your help," Thorn announced when Murtagh arrived at his apartment.
No 'please come in,' 'can I help you with your coat,' or 'leave your shoes by the door' – though, to be fair, Thorn had said all of those things to him enough that he couldn't be bothered to repeat himself anymore.
Still. 'I need your help' was an interesting way of greeting somebody.
Thorn waved him inside and closed the door like he was afraid of being overheard. He started to pace as soon as they were both out of the entryway.
Chessy was sprawled out in what Murtagh assumed was her favourite window-sill, considering how often he saw her there, and miaoued when she saw him. He walked over and gave her some well-deserved attention. Chessy purred at him in reward.
"So, help?" Murtagh prompted.
Thorn stopped pacing for a moment. "Yes, right." He blinked at Murtagh before he was at it again, walking from one end of the room to the other. "I've already reported it to the Bureau. I'm going to retake every test I can retake and -"
"Thorn?" Murtagh waved at him, finally catching his attention again. "Your point?"
"My point? My point is that I've been blind!" Thorn threw his hands up in the air. He looked frazzled and like he'd been tugging at his hair earlier while Murtagh hadn't been looking. "Shruikan had eyes on me multiple times in Bullridge and I didn't even notice!"
Several things occurred to Murtagh. First; Thorn was in contact with Darc. Knowing prison, it was likely through letters. Second; Darc was opening up to Thorn. He wouldn't have told Thorn about having him watched in Bullridge otherwise. And third; Thorn was clearly opening up to Darc in return – and also freaking out about it.
Of course, instead of mentioning any of those things, Murtagh opened his mouth and said, "Shruikan, huh?"
Thorn, curiously enough, started blushing. "He vetted me. Made sure he could trust me to take him in without turning him over to someone unsavoury. I don't -"
"Uh-huh, right, sure," Murtagh interrupted. "And you're calling him Shruikan now why, exactly?"
"That's not why I called you here!" Thorn exclaimed, voice almost shrill.
Murtagh was tempted to keep teasing him about it, but reminded himself that Thorn was licenced to carry a gun.
"Then what did you need my help with?" he asked instead.
"How blind have I been?"
Murtagh cocked an eyebrow. "If you're asking me whether I think you're blind for not noticing that Darc had eyes on you, the answer is no."
Thorn rubbed a hand over his face. "You don't think so?"
"Hell no. And I have no idea why you don't agree," he added. "You were there, working the case along with everyone else. You know how deeply that organisation was imbedded in...well, everything, I guess. It would have been stranger if he hadn't kept an eye on you."
Thorn frowned, but some of the worry looked to be melting off his face. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
"You should be glad he didn't do anything with it."
"Y-yeah. He, uh -" Murtagh watched Thorn consider what he'd been about to say and then visibly change his mind. "Yeah."
Murtagh made a note to question Thorn about the letters Darc had to be writing to him another day, when Thorn didn't look two seconds away from hyperventilating. And Durstan said he couldn't be nice.
"I just..." Thorn sighed. "What does he want with me?"
Now Murtagh was just plain confused. "Why are you asking me?" After all, if Thorn wanted to know, there was a much easier way of finding out.
"Because out of all of us, you're the one that knows him best!" Thorn said and gestured at him.
"It deeply troubles me to hear you say that," Murtagh drawled. "Also, I think that honour would fall to Durstan rather than me."
"Well, I'm not exactly familiar with your boyfriend, so you'll have to do."
Murtagh twitched faintly at that word. Boyfriend. Was that what they were? He didn't know. They hadn't exactly had a talk about that yet. He wasn't sure they were ever going to. After all, that'd require them to start talking rather than just fucking.
"Still. I could give you his number if you'd like."
Thorn sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes. "No, it's fine. You're probably right. Thanks, though," he added.
"I'm just a little twitchy, I guess." Thorn smiled faintly. "Who wouldn't be?"
Murtagh just hummed in answer.
Thorn let out another breath and finally seemed to properly calm down. "Thanks for talking me down."
"No problem," Murtagh told him. "I'm very good at calling people out on their bullshit."
Thorn let out what, from the look of things, was a completely involuntary laugh. "You're such an asshole."
"Yes I am," Murtagh stated, completely unashamed. "You should keep that in mind for next time."
Thorn walked over to give Chessy a little rub on the head. She trilled at him in thanks.
"Don't worry," he said. "I will."
...That didn't sound like Thorn was swearing off calling him for advice. Ah well. At least no one could say that Murtagh hadn't warned him.
After thoroughly vetting the competition, Murtagh applied for a job at a local youth centre. The advertisement said they were looking for a coach and counsellor for the kids, preferably someone who could keep them busy with one or multiple sports and knew how to talk to them when necessary.
Murtagh talked around explaining how exactly he'd gotten the experience with kids, and luckily they didn't call him out on it.
He got the job.
Murtagh could see Durstan visibly holding himself back from commenting on his choice of occupation, once Murtagh told him, and he appreciated the restraint.
What they'd gone through together would never fully go away, but they could move past it and build a better foundation on what remained. Murtagh had discovered he wasn't too bad with kids, so he was using that to his advantage.
And if he could help some of them out along the way, then it was only a bonus.
"Happy for you," was all Durstan said, and that was honestly enough.
"I'm not sure I am," Murtagh felt the need to say. "I played dodgeball maybe...once or twice? That's not something I'm looking to revisit."
"You'll do fine," Durstan said. "Besides, you're the coach now. You just have to give them the ball and watch them wreck each other."
"...I'm not sure you're supposed to advocate that kind of thing," Murtagh drawled.
"I won't tell if you don't."
Murtagh just shook his head. He guessed that's what he got for asking a CIA spook for advice. They were all 'if no one saw it, it didn't happen.' He tried not to think long and hard about what that was going to mean when it came to the future of his and Durstan's relationship. He largely failed.
"Arya and I have decided to get married."
To say Murtagh was surprised would be a lie. He had expected it, but not this quickly. Arya and Nasuada had that air about them, of people who had been through thick and thin together and had only come out stronger. He'd known they were going to last the moment he'd laid eyes on them.
"Congratulations," Murtagh told them.
Arya was practically beaming. Nasuada's smile, though smaller, was just as genuine.
"Thank you," Nasuada said.
"But that's not why we asked you to meet us," Arya added, curling an arm around her girlfriend's – now fiancée's – shoulders.
Nasuada smiled up at her before turning back to Murtagh. "We want you to be in our wedding."
Murtagh paused. That didn't sound like they were just inviting him to watch the ceremony. "...Define in."
"Well, I wanted you in the audience -" Arya said, sounding almost put out.
"I want you to be my best man," Nasuada cut in.
Murtagh blinked. "Best man?"
Murtagh looked over at Arya. "What about you?"
Arya's grin turned practically wicked. "I asked Vanir."
That wasn't exactly what Murtagh had meant, but he supposed it was his fault for not specifying. He was suddenly glad he wasn't eating or drinking anything, though. Choking on air was much less hazardous.
Arya's mouth curled into a smirk. "That was his reaction too."
"Did he accept?"
She laughed. "No. Thank the Gods."
"You should ask Thorn."
Arya hummed. "I just might."
"Just don't ask him to be your maid of honour," Nasuada said, sounding faintly tired. "It was funny with Vanir, but Thorn deserves better."
Murtagh was suddenly so sorry he missed it. He hadn't dealt with Vanir much, back when he'd been training for his 'undercover assignment' or whatever they'd called it in the paperwork, but he'd seen enough of him to know Vanir was generally a dickhead.
"If I ever get married, I'm definitely asking him if he'll be my maid of honour," Murtagh heard himself say.
Arya's eyebrows shot up. "So, what I'm hearing is that your liaison with the spook is going well?"
"Liaison?" he drawled. "Really?"
Arya flashed another smirk. "If the shoe fits."
Murtagh rolled his eyes at her and decided not to answer her horribly unsubtle question.
Something suddenly occurred to him. He hadn't gotten to know the team all that well, all things considered, but some things had stuck with him. "Wait, isn't that other guy engaged too?"
"Who, Roran? Yes, he is. We're going to beat him and Katrina to the altar and I can't wait," Arya said with a vicious grin.
"Just throw the bouquet his way and I'm sure he'll forgive you," Murtagh said.
Arya laughed. "A man after my own heart. I think we're going to be good friends."
"I'm going to regret making you two spend time together, aren't I?" Nasuada said in a tired voice.
Arya just kissed her cheek.
"So..." he looked between them, "I assume the best man offer is off the table?"
"Oh no, if I have to suffer then you're going down with me," Nasuada replied before he could even finish the question.
Murtagh figured that was probably the least he could do. He could foresee himself giving them a lot of grief in the future, especially if he and Arya really did hit it off. He could offer up his body and opinions in the grotesque ritual that masqueraded as the happiest day in someone's life in return.
Murtagh predicted that the relationship between him and Durstan would fizzle out.
But so far...it kept on looking like he was wrong. Durstan was often busy with work, but he checked in frequently – sometimes literally, as opposed to just over the phone. He could never say what was keeping him busy, which Murtagh understood. It was the CIA. But sometimes Murtagh couldn't help but feel like it was just an excuse. Like Dustan maybe wasn't as busy as he was claiming to be.
Then again, he wasn't exactly rushing to ask Durstan whether he was lying or not. If any misunderstandings were to occur...then he'd be just as much to blame.
"How are things with you and...Carsaib?"
But that didn't mean Murtagh appreciate being questioned about the relationship by others.
"Durstan," Murtagh corrected, ignoring Thorn's actual question. "Neither of us like it when I call him that."
Thorn frowned, clearly confused, but must have valued his sanity enough not to ask. He had good instincts. "Well, how are things?"
Murtagh shrugged. "They are."
Thorn's frown deepened.
Murtagh should have known that Thorn's offer to go for lunch was just a ruse. Nasuada and Arya hadn't gone that far yet, but their pointed questions about whether to send out one or two invitations had become so sharp he could practically cut himself on them.
"You know, communication is the key to a healthy relationship," Thorn felt the need to tell him.
Murtagh cocked an eyebrow. He wasn't about to fall for a trick like that. "Is that an invitation to ask you about those letters you've been receiving?"
Thorn's cheeks blushed in a shade that was almost a perfect match to his hair. It was entertaining to watch. "What letters?"
Murtagh just kept staring at him.
"Anyway, we were talking about you -"
"We finished talking about me and Durstan," Murtagh interrupted. "We're talking about you now. So, spill."
Great, now Thorn was frowning again. "But we didn't even –"
"Then quid pro quo," Murtagh decided on a whim; one he'd probably come to regret. "And you can go first."
They stared at each other for a long time before Thorn finally caved. He fiddled with what was left of his coffee and tried to stifle a groan. He was largely unsuccessful. "Yes," he finally admitted, "he's been sending me letters."
"...And?" Murtagh prompted. "Are you responding?"
"Of course!" Thorn spluttered. "That's only polite!"
It wasn't long after being introduced to Thorn's cat that Murtagh realised Thorn was adorable. This just further cemented the fact.
"Adorable," Murtagh told him.
Thorn buried his head in his hands. "I hate you so much."
"And yet you keep calling me." Murtagh leaned back and kicked the tip of his shoe against the ground. "I'd say that's your fault."
Thorn's huge shoulders heaved in a sigh.
"So what are you two talking about?"
Thorn's fingers drummed against the ceramic of his now empty cup. It barely made a sound. "I don't know."
Murtagh arched an eyebrow at him.
"It's the truth!" Thorn blurted out. "This and that and somehow nothing at all."
...If Murtagh didn't know any better...he knew what he'd call that.
"Has he explained the," he made the universal sign for 'I'm watching you' with his fingers to keep from saying 'creepily watching you from the shadows' out loud. He figured Thorn would appreciate the effort.
Thorn hunched his shoulders slightly. "Yes," he said, which was the opposite of what Murtagh had been expecting. "When I went to visit him."
Murtagh knew he was staring, but he also didn't care. "You went to see him."
Thorn's cheeks were reddening again. "He didn't want to put it in writing or say it over the phone," he muttered, sounding just as embarrassed as he looked.
Thorn looked around the café – which was still mostly empty. A few people had filtered in and out while they'd been sitting at their table. It was only them, the lone server, the cook and two other customers – both girls – off in the corner. They giggled every now and then, but mostly kept their chatter to a low, murmur-like tone.
"He said he wanted to know what my agenda was. In case he'd need to interfere."
Something occurred to Murtagh then. "Did he know about me?"
Thorn flinched slightly. "I don't know. I haven't asked."
Well, considering Durstan had known, chances were Darc had too. Which meant he really had been on their side, if he hadn't given Murtagh up to Rex.
Murtagh was sure he had Formora to thank for almost getting himself killed. Durstan had later confessed he hadn't said anything to Rex, and now it seemed unlikely that Darc would have done it. After all, if he was going to turn in Murtagh, why wait? Why let Aksel go?
"He's told me other things. In confidence," Thorn added when he obviously saw that Murtagh wanted to ask for details. "I might never fully understand why he did what he did, but I know how he ended up there, why he didn't try to leave sooner," his hands clenched on the table, "why he punched his way out."
Murtagh hadn't been there for all of Darc's testimonies, but he remembered the newspapers saying something about his family and how the loss of them had pulled him into a violent lifestyle he hadn't been able to get out of. It sounded like the usual sob story, but that didn't make it any less powerful. Just because so many people suffered as Darc had suffered didn't make his pain any less.
"I'm sure he's glad to have someone to talk to."
Thorn's cheeks were still faintly red when he cleared his throat and focused his attention on Murtagh. "So. Quid pro quo. You and Durstan."
Murtagh shrugged again and let his eyes slide over to the window. It had started to rain while they'd been talking. "What else is there to say?"
His companion was quiet for a long moment before releasing a long, tired sigh. "Know that you can talk to me, all right? Or Nasuada. We're both here for you."
And he did. He just didn't know if he was going to act on it.
"One day we're going to have to talk," Durstan drawled.
Murtagh was almost tempted to ask if Durstan had bugged him or his apartment. His chosen topic was awfully familiar, considering that he'd had various versions of the same conversation with Arya, Nasuada and Thorn recently.
Still, he should probably give Durstan the benefit of the doubt. Or possibly do some more tests before reaching a conclusion.
"About that look on your face." Durstan cocked an eyebrow as he looked at him. "Don't think I don't know what that means."
Murtagh reminded himself that not only was Durstan an active CIA agent; he'd been undercover for...who knows how long. Durstan always got cagey when Murtagh tried to ask him about it. He had to know how to read people, or he'd likely have ended up dead years ago.
But just because Murtagh could acknowledge that fact to himself didn't mean he wasn't prepared to give Durstan the run-around. At least until he was ready.
"No idea what you're talking about."
"Sure," Durstan drawled.
Murtagh could appreciate decent sarcasm, but there was a time and place for it. This did not qualify.
"Luckily for you, I'm a patient man," Durstan told him. "And I only said we'd need to talk one day."
"Sure," Murtagh echoed, just because he could.
"I'm not going to push," Durstan added, "but I wanted to put it out there."
Murtagh stayed silent, waiting for him to push regardless of what he'd just said, but Durstan didn't say another word. Not until he headed off into the kitchen and started rummaging around the drawers, probably looking for take-out menus again.
"To the left of the sink," Murtagh called out.
"Thanks," Durstan called back.
He sat down next to Murtagh again when he came back; no closer or further apart than he had before.
"So, what are you in the mood for?"
Arya and Nasuada's wedding was beautiful – and, like Arya had promised, before Roran's.
Roran showed up with his fiancée, a beautiful woman he introduced as Katrina. She, unlike Roran, didn't seem to mind that one of his co-workers had beat them to the altar. She was much too busy complimenting Nasuada on her dress and making off-hand remarks at Roran about Arya's suit. As Murtagh was leaving them, he heard her air the idea of theming the wedding so men wore dresses and women wore suits. Murtagh turned around just in time to catch the shocked look on Roran's face.
He saw Aksel again at the wedding – naturally, considering he was Arya's little brother. He introduced Murtagh to Eragon; a fresh-faced kid about the same age as Aksel. Eragon, as it turned out, was Brom's son and a large part of how the team had figured out how Aksel had gone missing so quickly.
Aksel looked better with a trial behind him and months of therapy and time to process everything. Murtagh had never asked what sort of assignments he'd been given during his time with the organisation and didn't care to know either. That was between Aksel and whoever he wanted to share it with.
He'd been surprised to see Vanir at the wedding, especially considering Vanir had looked like he wanted to be anywhere else in the whole world. Murtagh figured the brides must have blackmailed him and vowed never to get on their bad side.
He met Thorn's Saphira – or Glaedr's now – at the wedding as well. Murtagh could see what had made Thorn fall head over heels for her, just as he could see why it hadn't lasted. She was a decent conversationalist, though, and he hadn't minded being dragged into a dance with her in spite of them being virtual strangers.
He danced with Nasuada as well, and Arya too – if dancing next to her counted. It probably did, in some circles.
Thorn had indeed ended up being Arya's best man. And while Murtagh had called himself Nasuada's maid of honour when introducing himself to certain people, just to see them startle and stare in shock and surprise, he hadn't taken it further than that. Nasuada had asked him to be her best man, after all, and so that was the title he planned on ending the night with.
Thorn had only danced once; with Saphira, and they'd laughed all the while. Glaedr had watched them with nothing but amusement on his face.
Brom didn't come to the wedding, at least not that Murtagh saw, but he figured that maybe it wasn't the kind of thing you invited your boss to.
Murtagh and Durstan hadn't arrived at the wedding as a couple because, in the end, Nasuada had sent out two invitations. That didn't stop them from ending up in a coatroom together, though. Or the bathroom after that. Or the garden after that.
He blamed weddings. It did things to people.
Towards the end of the night, and even though Durstan gave off the air of someone who refused to dance to save his own life, he found himself in Durstan's arms nonetheless. Swaying to a beat. Doing what anyone with two eyes would call dancing.
Murtagh quietly vowed to destroy any evidence of that another day.
They didn't go home together that night, but Murtagh left with more questions than he'd arrived with and maybe a few answers he hadn't known he was looking for.
"So how are things between you and your prison pen pal?"
"Are you ready to talk about you and Durstan?" Thorn countered.
Murtagh shrugged. He knew he looked more at ease than he felt. "Sure."
Thorn narrowed his eyes at him. He clearly knew better than to believe Murtagh off the bat like that.
"He thinks he might be getting out on good behaviour," Thorn offered.
Murtagh arched an eyebrow. "And I'm sure you had nothing to do with that."
"Of course not," Thorn said with a completely blank face. If it hadn't been for the slight colour in his cheeks, Murtagh would even have believed him.
"Look," he heard himself say, "I know I give you a lot of shit, but I'm happy for you."
"If Darc is who you want, then -"
"Who said anything about wanting?!" Thorn spluttered, cheeks fire-engine red.
Murtagh tried very hard not to smirk at the sight. "The fact that you and he are still talking and that you blush whenever his name comes up."
"You know what, you're right," Thorn said, visibly puffing up. "You're a little shit."
Murtagh burst into laughter. "I never said that I was one."
"You never said you weren't one either!"
Murtagh snickered into his palm. "Yeah, that's fair."
Thorn looked at him for a long moment, long enough that Murtagh felt himself frown. "I'm happy for you too."
"You're happier with Durstan, even if you won't admit it yourself," Thorn continued. "And I know you two haven't talked, which I sincerely hope you do soon. Even though I know the two of you are going to be insufferable afterwards."
"...You say the sweetest things," he drawled.
"What I mean is, you deserve to be happy too, Murtagh," Thorn powered on. "You shouldn't be afraid to go for it anymore."
Murtagh folded his arms over his chest and tried to pretend he didn't want to be anywhere but there. It really was a shame that he couldn't just up and leave, considering it was his apartment. "This suddenly got a lot heavier than I was expecting it to."
"That's life for you."
Murtagh expected Thorn to keep going, but he left it there. He stayed a little while longer, but they talked about other things. It was almost enough to lull Murtagh into a false sense of security.
"I hope you talk to him soon," was the last thing Thorn said before he left about an hour or so later.
Murtagh said nothing.
He hated that he knew Thorn was right. But that didn't mean he was going to say that to his face.
"You were right. We should talk," Murtagh forced out.
They were in bed together, wearing some actual clothes even. It wasn't often they did that, through no fault of Murtagh's. Durstan was the one that kept mentioning how unnecessary sleepwear was when they both knew they'd be fucking at least once before going to sleep. Considering Durstan's choice of sleepwear was underwear and nothing else, Murtagh really didn't understand what the fuss was about. If he was that eager to get it on, he could deal with stripping Murtagh out of his pants.
Murtagh had known for a while that Durstan had his fair share of scars. That didn't stop his fingers from tracing the only one whose origins he knew, especially when it was right within reach.
"Hmm," Durstan hummed, sounding faintly sleepy, "say that first part again." The slight curl to his mouth betrayed him, however.
"I can and will kill you," Murtagh deadpanned.
Durstan's shoulders shook with suppressed laughter. "All right, all right. Don't get your panties in a bunch."
Murtagh rolled his eyes. "We've talked about this. Kinks stay out of serious conversations -"
"- unless they're a part of them, yes, yes."
He waited, but Durstan seemed content to leave it at that.
"...So?" he prompted. "You wanted to talk. So talk."
"I am horribly invested in you," Durstan drawled. "Truly, horribly. Some might even say approaching the L word."
That...was not the conversation Murtagh had thought Durstan had been referring to.
"Lust? I should hope so, considering the amount of sex we've been having," Murtagh heard himself say.
"You know perfectly well what I mean."
Murtagh fell silent.
Now that they were talking, it almost seemed like Durstan was careful not to touch him. Only Murtagh's fingers, which now covered the angry-red mark that had once been a bullet wound, marked the one contact between their bodies.
"This isn't the conversation I thought we would be having," Murtagh admitted.
"Of course not. You've been expecting me to break it off for months now," Durstan drawled. "Well, here's the quarterly report, agent; it's not happening."
"...Please never use that phrase ever again."
"Persuade me otherwise."
Murtagh just barely withheld the urge to poke him right in the shoulder. He settled for lying down on his back, arms folded over his chest and staring up at the ceiling.
He wasn't sure how long they lay there, more or less in identical positions, just waiting for one of them to break the silence. Murtagh knew it wasn't going to be him, even if Durstan had all but dared him to kiss them both silent. He didn't know what to say after the kiss led to sex and then to pillow-talk. So then it was better not to do anything at all.
"Look," Durstan said finally, "I'm not asking you to say it back."
Murtagh scoffed. "Say what back? You barely said anything."
He could feel Durstan looking at him. He wasn't sure how that made him feel.
No, that was a lie. He wouldn't have kept Durstan around if he hadn't known. The sex was nice and all, but he didn't need protection anymore. If he wanted to keep anyone around, it was because they fulfilled another purpose.
Saying it out loud was scary, however. Murtagh hadn't been vulnerable in a long, long time. And he'd lost the last people he'd said those words to. He wasn't sure he was ready to say them again, not yet.
But there was something he could say, until then. If he ever got there again. "I'm invested in you too, I guess," he said, "but don't let it get to your head."
"Too late," Durstan replied almost instantaneously.
Somehow, it was exactly what Murtagh needed to hear. All the same...
"I changed my mind." Murtagh grabbed a pillow and hit him over the head with it.
Durstan started laughing, so Murtagh hit him again. And again. And a fourth and a fifth time until Durstan wrestled the pillow from him and got him to think about something else entirely.
Roran and Katrina naturally invited the entire team to their wedding. Which, for some reason, also included Murtagh.
Murtagh, just because he knew it was expected of them at this point, brought Durstan along. And also because he knew it'd tick Roran off, just a little.
Roran's groomsman was Eragon, who Murtagh learned was Roran's cousin. Eragon showed up with Aksel, who'd somehow gotten even taller since Murtagh last saw him. At this rate, the kid was going to get even taller than him!
Katrina's maid of honour was Nasuada because they'd apparently hit it off at Nasuada and Arya's wedding.
Though Murtagh didn't see it happen, he later learned that Glaedr took Saphira aside and proposed to her there. She must have said yes because she came back with a ring that sparkled only nearly as brightly as the smiles on her and Glaedr's faces.
Vanir showed up as well, though accompanied for once. Murtagh didn't recognise the man with him, but Vanir's scowl was softer than he'd seen it in a while. He debated between congratulating Vanir or his date on the momentous occasion, but found himself swept onto the dance-floor before he could decide.
Dancing with Durstan after their talk felt different, like they both knew something they hadn't last time. Murtagh wasn't suggesting they were going to get married and have lots of sex and babies – well, he was sure about one out of those three, but not so much the other two – but he knew that something had changed. Their relationship had changed, and hopefully for the better.
It was strange to think of how far they'd come. It almost made him wonder if they could one day forget the real first time they'd met, kissed, had sex, and focus on every first time after that.
He did know one thing, though; only time would tell.
Durstan had been almost stubbornly fresh-shaven while he'd been playing the role of Durza. Now that he was free, he seemed more than happy to let the hair on his face do its own thing.
At least, that was what Murtagh assumed. He hated to think that Durstan might have chosen to grow the monstrosity that was taking shape on his chin.
It had gotten to the point where Murtagh couldn't take it anymore and had told him, "Either this goes or I go."
Durstan had scoffed, but the next time Murtagh saw him the goatee was gone.
"Wipe the smirk off your face," Durstan said. An 'or else' was heavily implied.
Murtagh pointedly didn't wipe the smirk off. "Or you'll do what, exactly?"
"All right, you asked for it."
The resulting stubble-burn, in Murtagh's humble opinion, made the whole endeavour worth it. Then Durstan asked him whether he wanted to move in together.
For a moment, Murtagh wasn't sure he was breathing. Which was silly, all things considered. Durstan had already all but said the L word to him, and here he was, getting emotional about cohabitation?
Luckily his mouth knew how to keep talking independently of his brain. "You mean into mine, right? Because yours is just sad and my lease isn't up for a while and -"
Murtagh let out a sound he was going to deny making till the day he died when Durstan flipped them over and leaned over him only slightly threateningly.
"Yes," he said, sounding decidedly not out of breath. "I'll move in with you. Even if you are a brute."
"You like it," Durstan said and kissed him.
Murtagh moved to tell him exactly what he thought of that, but Durstan kissed him again. And kept kissing him until he forgot what he'd been about to say in the first place.
"You'll have to sign about a million NDA's now that we're official," Durstan said while Murtagh was still feeling kiss-stupid. He even dared to brush their lips together, like he was saying nothing out of the ordinary. "Just so you know."
"Oh, I see how it is," he drawled. "You lure me in with good sex and then casually drop into conversation that I can't tell anyone about it."
"The fucking mouth on you," Durstan said, though he clearly wasn't sure whether he approved of it or not. Considering his thumb had suddenly found itself stroking Murtagh's bottom lip, Murtagh thought the former was probably winning.
"And here I thought you liked my mouth," he said and nipped at Durstan's thumb.
"It doesn't stop me from wanting to shut you up every now and then," Durstan growled.
"Then shut me up."
Brom announced his retirement the day Shruikan Darc was let out of prison.
Murtagh wasn't surprised. He'd clearly been through his own version of hell and crawled his way back just to see the case through, and was now undoubtedly tired. But Murtagh thought that his decision might have been sped up by seeing Shruikan approaching Thorn outside the lobby and offering him a bouquet of flowers. Thorn blushing at the sight of them probably hadn't helped either.
Murtagh hadn't been there to see it happen, but Arya's enthusiastic retelling of it was almost as good as the real thing. And besides, he got front-row seats of Thorn's blush when he and Durstan bumped into Thorn and Shruikan some days later. It was somehow even redder than anything Murtagh had been able to trigger in Thorn before. Murtagh was impressed.
Durstan and Shruikan's stand-off was hilarious, though, and no one would be able to convince him otherwise.
Maybe, as time went by, they'd be able to move past their history together and become something like friends. Durstan clearly wasn't going anywhere and Shruikan didn't seem all that inclined either.
Murtagh made a mental note to tell Thorn 'I told you so' later. Much later. When Thorn had settled into the potential between himself and Shruikan. After all, Murtagh was – to quote Thorn – a little shit, but he wasn't that much of a little shit.
Unless you asked Durstan, but then he was biased and so his opinion didn't count. Not on this, anyway. On other things...well, Murtagh could be persuaded. He had been so far, hadn't he?
A/N And there you have it.
This story has been one hell of a wild ride. It's taken me on a few twists and turns I didn't realise it was going to; Aksel being taken for one, as well as Durza deciding to reveal himself as an agent, but it's all fitted in quite nicely. If anything, the twists and turns have been the story telling me "hey, so I know you didn't have this in your original notes, but wouldn't it work so much better?" and me going "you know what, you're right."
There is, to my knowledge, no such thing as a "What About Second Breakfast?" mug (as a nod to LotR of course), but THERE SHOULD BE. IT'S PERFECTION!
Hope you enjoyed this story and I hope to see you all again soon in a future update. :)
I'm sussiekitten over on Tumblr if you want to keep up with my writing and any general life-posts I occasionally make. I mostly just reblog whatever I like, but Tumblr is where I talk about any fics I'm currently writing or are planning to update shortly.
But that is all for now. Until next time!