Hello everyone! We've come to the end of this fic! :( :( Wish I could say there's a happy ending, but those of you who have read King and Lionheart know that it doesn't end well. So, I'll just put the tissue warning up right now. The ending of this chapter didn't turn out exactly as I would like, but I'm still happy with it. Peter and Edmund on the other hand… not so much. Hugs for them will be greatly appreciated so they will continue to work with Valiant and me. ;)
Thanks to all those who have favorited or followed this story. MASSIVE thank you's to those who took the time to leave reviews. Each one has filled me with such joy and confidence. And a thank you to those who simply read this story as well.
Serena Edmunds: Hey, don't feel bad about that. I do a lot of "just reading" myself. Thank you for your review. I'm glad that you think I'm doing a good job with this crossover. I hope you enjoy King and Lionhearted. Valiant did such an amazing job creating this universe. I hope you like this last chapter.
I hope this last chapter lives up to all of you guys' expectations. :D Enjoy… or enjoy as much as you are able.
My sister helped with a few parts in this chapter (and with encouragement when I was ready to scrap the whole thing). Thanks, Sunny! Love you tons!
Disclaimer: I haven't caught the White Stag yet, so my wish to own this has not come true, unfortunately. ;)
~~~~ Line Break ~~~~
I pause outside the Justice Building to shore up my courage once more. Never has the building appeared more imposing than it does now. Even with the soft glow of electric lights shining out of the windows, the building's front is grim. It appears to frown down upon me, as if questioning my existence.
Aslan, give me courage. Help me through this please. Help us through this next week.
I walk slowly up the steps and enter the building. The heat of the building is stifling compared to the chill outside. I walk over to the front desk. An older gentleman is sitting behind it, frowning at the computer screen in front of him.
"Excuse me?" Even though I strive to keep my voice steady, it still comes out far weaker than I would like.
"Yes, what is it?" The man barks, not even looking up from his work.
"I –" The magnitude of what I am about to do hits me, and I stutter to a stop. How can I do this? I had promised Peter.
"Well?" The man asks again, finally looking up to level a glare at me.
I lick my lips. "Where do I go to get a tessera, please?"
The man rolls his eyes and sighs, "Through that hall," he points to the door to his right. "Second left and down the stairs. Then you take the passage to your left and take the third left. It'll be the second door on your right."
"Through that hall, second left, downstairs." I repeat. "Take the right passage."
I flinch at the sudden exclamation and swallow wrong. My lungs spasm, spreading panic throughout my body as I begin coughing. Praise Aslan that it doesn't turn into a coughing fit, and I stop after a minute. I glance at the Peacekeeper, sure that at any moment he's going to call someone to take me away. But he just glares at me.
"It's the left passage, you dolt, left. Were you not listening?"
"Sorry." I duck my head. "Take the left passage, third left, and it'll be the second door to the right."
"Good." He turns back to his computer. "Better hurry. They'll be closing shop soon."
"Thank you." I say quietly.
The words feel like acid in my mouth. Thank you for helping me and hundreds of other kids bet our lives away to keep our families alive. Thank you for being gruff and uncaring while we struggle day-to-day just to make ends meet.
The basement of the building is damp and cool. Not as cold as outside, but enough to be uncomfortable. It's as if the Peacekeepers and those in charge wish to make this experience is dismal and as soul-killing as possible.
It's for Peter and Mum. I remind myself as I take the final turn and pause before the door the guard had directed me to. I stand outside for a few minutes unsure whether I'm supposed to simply walk in or if I should knock. Peter never lets me come with him, so I have no idea what to expect.
Finally, I raise my hand and knock on the peeling wood of the door.
The voice which beacons me in is not as gruff as that of the guard at the front desk, nor is it warm. It sounds bored.
I open the door and step inside the room. One bench sits along the wall to my left, though no one is sitting on it. A long counter stands at the back of the room with a door behind it leading into a small compartment lined with shelves. A middle-aged woman sits at a computer behind the counter. Her hair is pulled up into a tight bun, but her mouth is relaxed and her eyes are not angry like those of the Peacekeeper upstairs.
She looks up as I approach, her gaze saddening even as she smiles at me.
"Hello," I answer. I try to keep my voice steady and to stop my hands from shaking, but it is hard. Half of me is screaming at me to get out of that room, to run away back home and try and think of something else. But the other half – the bigger half – knows there is nothing else. This is the only way to ensure that we make it through the next week.
"How can I help you. Are you here to pick up an allotment?"
I nod, "Yes, Ma'am. But, I'm also here to… to…" I can't. I can't speak the words I promised Peter I never would.
"You would like to take a tessera?" The lady supplies.
"Yes, Ma'am." I whisper.
Her gaze softens even further, "All right. I'll make this as easy as possible."
I lower my gaze to the counter top, blinking back tears. "Thank you."
"Can I have your full name please?"
"Edmund Leonidas." I wipe my hands down the sides of my pants, but it does not help the sweat that has gathered there.
A sharp intake of breath has me looking up in surprise. "Is everything alright?"
"Are you Peter's brother?" She asks, staring at me sharply.
Confused, I nod, "Yes, Ma'am. He's my older brother."
"Does Peter know you are here? He's made his thoughts very clear about you taking a tessera."
I swallow hard. Oh Peter. Even here, he has been watching out for me. You great lummox.
"I know." I say quietly, ignoring the small voice in my head that reminds me of how angry Peter will be when he finds out what I've done. "We don't have a choice though." I duck my head and shuffle my weight. The guilt from not being enough still weighs heavily on me and will for a long time. "Things are hard this month." I take a deep breath and reach for the bravado that has kept me going since Peter fell ill. "Peter will understand."
The lady sighs, but nods, "All right, Dear." She reaches underneath the counter and hands me a thin slip of paper and a pen. "Write your name and age on that, and I'll get you sorted."
My hand shakes as I reach out to accept the items from her. It's for Peter and Mum. I remind myself as I sign my name and mark my age.
Is this how Peter feels each time he comes to do this? Does he have the same weight in his middle – the same lump in his throat?
Oh, Aslan, bless and protect Peter for all he's done for us.
I hand the paper back to the woman. She plugs the information into the computer before dropping the slip of paper into a bowl that is almost spilling over with similar slips. I swallow at the sight of how many people have come in before me.
"Wait here. I'll be right back."
She gets up and enters the room behind her. After a minute, she's back with two largish sacks of flour in one arm and a jug of oil in the other. She sets them on the table and then glances at me.
"I've included Peter's allotment for this month as well. Will you be all right to carry these back by yourself?"
I eye the supplies. It'll be difficult, but I'll be able to get everything back. I nod. "Yes, Ma'am. I'll be fine. Is there anything else I need to do?"
She shakes her head, "That's everything."
I gather the flour into my arms and pick the oil up with my left hand, "Thank you, Ma'am."
"Take care of yourself, Edmund."
I snort softly to myself, but nod. I hurry out of the Justice Building, ducking my head as I pass the Peacekeeper at the front. A shiver runs through my body as I step back out into the cold evening air.
I hunch my shoulders as I head home, trying to conserve my body heat. Though the flour and oil should not be heavy, they sit like stones in my arms. Between the long hours in the mine, and my malnutrition, even lifting small weights has become a problem lately.
I can feel my lungs tightening with each step. Coughs force their way out of me, slowing my steps further. I bite back a curse. There's no way I will be able to sneak into the house if I'm coughing up a lung.
I pause for a few minutes down the street from our house. I still have to figure out how to get these supplies into the house without Peter noticing. He was upstairs resting when I left. The best I can hope for is that he'll still be doing so when I arrive. It would be better for everyone involved if he doesn't figure out what I have done… what I have been doing.
I ease the front door open as softly as I can. Peter doesn't seem to be downstairs, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Striding quickly over to the kitchen area, I set the parcels down on the table and ease out of my coat. I swallow a few coughs, aware that I'll bring Peter down on my head if I begin a coughing fit. There's no way he'll stay upstairs if he hears me.
Unfortunately, my plan doesn't work as well as I would have liked. It's as I'm placing the second bag on the cabinet shelf that a coughing fit takes hold of me. I try to stifle it, burying my face in my arms, but it's not long before I hear the stairs creak behind me.
"Eddie? Are you all right?"
I freeze. Peter. Curse my lungs. I knew this would happen.
Aslan, help me know what to say!
The rest of the stairs creak as Peter rushes over to me. His arms wrap around my back, supporting me as I continue coughing.
"Hey, it's all right. Calm down."
He pulls me so I am in a more upright position. "Hold on. Let me get you some tea. Slow your breathing down."
I listen to Peter put the kettle on the stove to heat some water. Soon, a mug of tea is pressed into my hands. The steam wafts over me and I breathe deeply, relishing the relief it gives me. Slowly, my coughing eases.
"There. Better?" Peter asks, wrapping an arm around me.
I nod, "Thanks, Pete."
"No worries. You're home late. What were you doing?"
His tones are teasing, and I look up to see his eyes twinkling. He bumps my shoulder with his own. "Catch up with Vilren and Drake?"
I smile thinly, "Something like that, Pete."
"Is Mum still working?" Peter pulls me closer, and I rest my head on his shoulder.
I nod, "Yeah. She's been really busy the last few days."
"Well, then. Guess it's up to you and me to get dinner made then, huh, Ed?"
He slips his arm off my shoulder and stands up quickly, pulling me after him. Though he's still weak and can't exert himself for long, for short stretches of time, he's almost gained all of his strength and energy back. "What should we make?"
He strides over to the cabinet I put the flour and oil into. I have to bite my tongue to keep from stopping him. No matter what I do, he's going to find the Capitol rations. He's going to ask questions, and I won't be able to lie.
The cabinet opens. Nothing happens for almost a half a minute. I count every second, each feeling like a lifetime. Peter doesn't turn his back – eleven, twelve… thirty, thirty-one. Time freezes just as his hands seemed to do so. I can see quite clearly how pale his knuckles are, holding onto the cabinet's chipped knob as if for his life. As if what he saw before him were a great ominous warning, and it clutches his heart.
Peter voice is hoarse. I flinch at the full use of my name.
"Edmund, look at me."
I don't want to. Facing Peter – facing the hurt I know will be in his face, the anger – is the last thing I want to do. But he's my brother.
I take a deep breath and look up. Peter's relinquished his grip on the cabinet and turned around. His face is white, but his eyes blaze with barely suppressed anger. "Where did all this come from?" He motions to the coarse sacks of flour and the jug of oil.
I lick my lips, resisting the urge to take a step back. It's Peter. No matter how angry he is, he'd never hurt me.
"It's the tesserae allotment, Peter. Can't you see that? I figured I'd pick it up for you since you're still recovering." I smile, but it's tight around the edges. My hands are shaking again, so I tuck them into my pockets.
Peter takes a step closer, "I know what is in the allotment, Edmund. This is too much. What did you do? You took a tessera didn't you?"
"Peter, let me explain –" I hold up a hand to try and stop him before he starts, but he pays it no heed.
"Let you explain?" He sneers. "What is there to explain. You broke your word, Edmund. You promised you wouldn't take one. You swore."
"Yes, I know, Peter, but –"
"But nothing, Edmund. Why did you do it? If we needed another tessera, I could have gone. I would have gone. There was no need for you to do that. Was it to prove something?" He takes two steps closer, crowding into my personal space. "Is that it? You wanted to prove yourself so badly that you broke your word?"
His hands are on my shoulders, and he's shaking me. I latch onto his wrists, trying to still my body so I can reply when his gaze visibly focuses on something on my forehead. He freezes so suddenly it's as if he's been turned to stone. A chill runs through my body.
Please, Aslan, I beg you. Let it not be what I think it is.
I hadn't spent as long at the well this evening as I usually do. I had been too excited to get home to give my pay to Mum. We both have grown so used to seeing small traces of soot and dust on my face and in my hair, that if I came home with some this evening, she must not have noticed.
Peter reaches out and grabs my face, tilting it so that it faces the light better. Usually such an action would be gentle, his fingers barely gracing my cheeks. His touch would be more an encouragement to allow him to do what he willed instead of this crushing pressure that demanded obedience. I force myself not to jerk away, not to race from his presence. It will do no good.
"What is this?"
His fingers rub a spot along my hair line. As he pulls his hand away, they come back black. My heart sinks.
Peter stares at it in disbelief. His jaw clenches a few times, throat convulsing as he swallows. His shoulders are tense.
"Tell me this isn't what I think it is."
His gaze bores into mine, daring me to lie to him. There is only one place that produces such an element. There is only one place I have been forbidden to go.
"I didn't have a choice, Peter." I whisper. I hug my arms in front of me, hunching my shoulders. The room has grown several degrees colder. I wish for the warmth of my coat, but know that even if I had it, I will still feel the chill. It is not the chill of the elements, but of Peter's distain and fury.
"Of course you have a choice, you liar!" He explodes. "Why did you do it? It wasn't bad enough that you had to threaten your life by taking a tessera, but you had to risk it in the mines as well? By Aslan, Edmund, are you that stupid? What you were trying to prove? That you could do it? That you could help? Haven't Mum and I pressed on you enough that we don't want your help, that we can do it. That we'd much rather you safe and whole than anything else in the world? Do you not care? What would Mum think if she knew? Does our love mean that little that at the smallest of opportunities you go and disregard everything we have ever done for you? Do our sacrifices mean nothing to you?"
"I did it for you!" I shout, taking a step forward.
I have been willing to take Peter's yelling. He is mad – justifiably so. I have broken my word to him, for just cause, but it is still a broken bond. But I cannot stand by and allow him to think that I did it to prove something, that I would be so ungrateful as to throw everything he and Mum have ever done for me back in their faces.
Peter's face goes blank for a moment, but I don't stop.
"I did it all for you. You think I wanted to spend hours in those mines, barely able to breath, struggling to hide my cough and the fact that I had difficulties completing the work from the Overseers? You think I relished coming home hacking up a lung because of all the dust I breathed in, wanting to do nothing but collapse into bed, but not being able to because I still had homework to finish? You think I desired doing this to my hands?" I hold them up so he can see the deep splits and raw skin that has accrued from helping Mum with the laundry and from accidents in the mines. "I did it all for you and for Mum, Peter."
My voice cracks; tears fill my eyes. "Of course, I didn't want to. I know what you have sacrificed to keep me safe, to keep me healthy. Never would I throw it in your face. Do you think that little of me?"
My tears and obvious distress don't have any effect on Peter. Anger still sits heavy in his gaze.
"Then why," He growls. "did you do it? There was no need."
I scoff, "Have you heard nothing I've said!" I begin pacing, unable to stand still any longer. "Yes, there was a need. If I hadn't taken your place in the mines, the Peacekeepers would have been here almost a week ago, dragging you out to the woods." I turn on him, poking him in the chest. "You were sick for weeks, Peter. You almost died."
The emotions from the days I had been kept away from him, from the countless hours I spent at his bedside, come sweeping back, shortening my voice. I go back to pacing, "Mum spent hours at your bedside trying to help you get better, trying to keep you here. We had to get medicine from Aunt Evelyn*. If I hadn't stepped in, it would have been for naught. The Peacekeepers would have put a bullet in your brain, Peter, and there would have been nothing I could have done to stop it."
Silence reigns for a few moments. Peter turns away from me, his shoulders so tight I can see the muscles bunching in his neck.
"And the tessera?" He asks without turning around. His voice is calm and even. That scares me more than if he had continued ranging at me. Peter is never calm – especially not when emotional. Peter should not be calm now.
"Why did you take that?" He asks again.
"It was necessary, Peter."
Please, Aslan, let him drop it.
"That's not an answer, Edmund. Why. Did. You. Take. A. Tessera? You swore on Dad's grave that you wouldn't. Answer the question."
"I – I can't, Peter. I won't." I won't put that on him. He's Peter. The guilt would eat him from the inside out.
"Yes, Edmund, you will." His anger sharpens, and I can feel my soul wilting from the blaze of it.
I refuse to back down. Let him think of me what he will – I will not allow him to shoulder guilt that is not his to bear. He could not help his sickness, but if he knew what we did while he was ill, he will never forgive himself. I would rather he be angry at me for an eternity than for him to turn that anger inward towards himself.
"No, Peter, I won't. That is not your business. Think of me what you will. I took a tessera. I'm not sorry I did. If given the choice, I would make the same decision all over again."
We stare into each other's eyes for what feels like forever. The silence and anger are so thick in the room, you could almost cut it. Finally, Peter takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders.
"I am going to talk to Mum. You stay – here."
I open my mouth to object, but he shakes his head.
"No!" He shakes his finger in my face. "No, Edmund. I'm talking. You don't get to talk. You've lost that right." He steps closer, his voice lowering. "You don't get to explain or excuse away what you've done. You broke your word. That's all I need to know."
He steps back and begins to turn away, "I don't want to talk to you anymore. I don't want to see you. You'll be sleeping with Mum tonight."
With those final words, he walks to the door leading to the back room, opens it, and disappears.
I fall to my knees as the door slams shut behind him. My heart hurts as if it has been pried from my chest, ripped into a thousand pieces, and then stuffed back in. Curling up, I cover my mouth with one hand to muffle the sounds of my cries.
I don't want to see you..
Tears stream down my cheeks, but I pay them no heed as I cry out to the only One who can hear me now. I don't even know what to pray. Words will not come. Thoughts will not form.
All I can see if Peter's face – the disgust that had been present throughout the entire argument. All I can hear is the anger – the accusations.
You'll be sleeping with Mum tonight.
Peter and I have had spats in the past, but he's never said that to me. He's never banished me from his side. The only times I have had to stay with Mum instead of in our room was when he's been sick.
But now he's built a barrier between us.
I did it for you, Peter. Everything I did was for you.
I have done my best to protect and provide for my family, but all I have succeeded in doing is tearing it apart.
Aslan, help us. Help Peter. Let this pass. Help him forgive me. Please.
~~~~ Line Break ~~~~
*Given the relationship Val created in her epically sad, but wonderful one-shot Letting Go and Holding On, there is some reconfiguring going on in regard to the names Peter and Edmund use for Susan and Lucy's parents. Calling Evelyn "Aunt Evelyn" is one of those changes. I'll be making changes in the near future to this story and my others to reflect this change. (Val, as per our PMs, if you don't care for this change I made, I will switch it back. :D)