Happy Hearts Day to all!
And yes, I know this isn't a new chapter of King and Lionheart. I'm actually having a bit of a struggle conveying some crucial scenes because I am limited by my Peter/Susan/Edmund/Lucy POVs approach to the narrative (told you the plot bunnies get stuck with me, not my co-author), so please bear with me. A prayer also wouldn't come amiss. ^_^
In the meantime, though, we have this love story between a father and son—two pairs of fathers and sons, actually (can you guess who they are? ^_^). I give you no romantic tales between a man and a woman (I don't even know if I can write straight up romance, to tell you the truth). I give you no giant, epic Valentine story. Just this little story of mine.
This is dedicated ESPECIALLY to my dearest friend and sister-in-Spirit, CoffeeRanger, whose fic "Bedtime Routine" inspired this very one; whose friendship, kindness and prayers bless me immensely every day of my life. Also, this is for the wonderful and incomparably talented awilliamsbbc.98, whose happiness and physical well-being are always in my mind and prayers. I love you both so, so much! Happy Hearts Day, my beautiful girls!
Finally, congratulations to my American readers for their Olympic delegate Mirai Nagasu's history-making long program! That triple Axel literally brought tears to my eyes (I am appalled that she wasn't given a perfect GOE for that perfect jump). I fear that the judges will bog her down in the PCS at the ladies' singles event to give certain athletes a better shot at a podium finish, but in my heart, Nagasu is already the real champion, just as Yuna Kim was the real gold medalist at Sochi 2014. And oh, please pray for Asa Miller and Michael Christian Martinez as well! They are my country's precious delegates at the Games! ^_^
Without further ado…
LETTING GO AND HOLDING ON
"Great job, Edmund," Adam Leonidas watched as the only District 12 apothecary, Evelyn Pevensie, eased his son back to a more comfortable position on the bed, tucking him under a couple of thick winter linens. Edmund had done little more than sit up crookedly as Evelyn pressed her ear on his back to listen to his breathing, but judging by the sheen of sweat on the little boy's face, staying somewhat upright must have been no minor feat that warranted such praise.
Unbidden, something akin to envy took a brief hold of Adam's heart, for the soft feather bed and linens seemed the zenith of warmth and comfort – things he and Helen neither possessed nor could afford to provide for their chronically ill son. Surreptitiously he shook himself, disgusted that he was coveting his neighbors' goods in the middle of his fast. He began wording a prayer of contrition to Aslan in his mind, but was pulled out of concentration when the healer finally spoke, her fingers tabbing the pulse in the boy's tiny wrist.
"He needs a hospital," Evelyn said, the plaintive look in her eyes incongruous to the placid expression she wore on her face.
"No," Adam choked out, with more bitterness in his tone than he had intended. "No, Evelyn. We can't take Edmund to that Capitol-accredited hospital. You know this. The only help he will get is a pillow squashed against his face."
"He's a child, Adam. We've only heard of older people being euthanized so far. Perhaps... Perhaps they'll have more compassion towards him."
Adam wanted to laugh at this rose-coloured notion, but fought down his sarcasm and the steady deluge of bitterness rising within him. After all, Evelyn was doing all that she could to help Edmund. As it was, she had the very ill, possibly contagious boy sprawled on her own children's bed. His older son, Peter, was in the Pevensies' living room, having meat pies and hot cider with his friend, Liam Pevensie, and the girls, Lucy and Susan. To say that the Pevensies were being gracious and hospitable to his family seemed grossly inadequate.
When Adam spoke again, there was no bitterness in his tone, only conviction. "Evelyn, we are not taking Edmund to the hospital. Even if they help him now, they'll have his health records on file. If, along the way, they deem him too... too burdensome for our district, they'll come for him. They'll come for him, and then they will kill him."
Evelyn sighed, as if in the time Adam had formulated his argument, she had figured it all out as well. The healer gave him a tight nod and felt for Edmund's pulse again, which struck Adam as odd since nothing could have changed with the boy's condition in the last couple of minutes–unless, of course, his son was getting worse with every passing second. Looking at the meagre rise and fall of the linens covering his chest, and the purplish tinge to his lips, it seemed more probable that every shallow breath was just ticking the remaining hours—minutes—of the young boy's life. Adam closed his eyes, fists nearly clenching closed if it wasn't for his wife sliding her hand in his.
"Thank you for everything, Evelyn. I don't know how we can ever repay you for all that you do for Edmund," Helen said, squeezing Adam's hand. The tears were apparent in her voice, and it was all the man could do not to lay prostate on the floor of the Pevensie children's room; to beg Aslan to put him at death's door instead and place Edmund, hale and whole, in his mother's loving arms.
"Mrs... Mrs. Pev... sie," Edmund suddenly wheezed, eyes parting into mere slits. Both Adam and Helen tensed as Evelyn leaned close to make sense of their son's broken, labored whispers, her hand brushing the dark fringe off his forehead. When the boy finished and slipped back into restless slumber, the semblance of calm Evelyn had tried to maintain dissipated, leaving a look of utter heartbreak and sympathy in its wake. "He wants me to ask you if he could just finish the game. The "Keep Breathing" game? He says you don't need to buy him Turkish Delight anymore. He's so very, very tired and just wants to... just wants to stop."
There was a strangled intake of breath before Adam felt his wife's hand pulling away from his, a sob tearing out of her chest as she pressed both palms against her mouth. Barely excusing herself, Helen turned sharply on her heels and left the room, unable to accept the implications that their son had just unwittingly made. Adam stood, rooted to the spot, feeling as though he had forgotten how to breathe.
"I'm so sorry," Evelyn said, her expression and voice conveying more emotion than Adam had ever seen in the woman—a strong, unrelenting woman whose confidence and hope amidst the chaos that was their lives remained unshaken… until now.
And by Aslan, did it shake the Leonidas patriarch's faith in the Great Lion to the core...
The afternoon went by and still Edmund continued to breathe. According to Evelyn, one of his lungs was so near to the point of collapse that none of her remedies were working anymore, and he had been coughing too hard for so long that he had burst several capillaries in his eyes, which could lead to blindness if his condition didn't improve. Every word that came out of the apothecary's lips sounded so grim that Adam feared Helen would faint in his arms, but he chose to hold on to the fact that Edmund still breathed—that their son hadn't given up on the game he and his wife had made up for him.
As the Pevensies bustled around the kitchen to prepare for supper, Adam excused himself and went outside to clear his thoughts and his heart of the mounting resentment he was harboring towards Aslan.
Who was he, that the Great Lion, Creator and Giver of life, would look at him and think that he deserved a loving, breathtaking woman such as Helen Biellmann? Who was he, that the good lord who owned everything he turned his eyes upon, would give him a beautiful, golden son who, at his tender age, showed selfless affection for his parents and his younger brother? Who was he to harbor anger and resentment in his heart, when everything he thought was his… truly and completely belonged to Him – even their little Edmund, whose life was His to take if it was His will?
Perhaps it was the hunger and thirst brought about by the third day of his fast. Perhaps it was the persistent headache and the threat of dehydration. Perhaps it was the possibility that he could lose his son before daybreak. Whatever the reason, Adam found himself on his knees, unsure whether he should look up at the Heavens or keep his head down as a sign of repentance and humility. He settled for doing the latter and began praying, momentarily heedless of the risk he was subjecting himself and his hosts to. He needed to be with Aslan right here and now, and perhaps Aslan needed him this way, too, that he might prove worthy of the miracle he was about to ask for.
I am not worthy that You should set your paws on the threshold of my home, but only say the word and my son shall be healed.
Aslan, my life and that of my wife's and sons' belong to You. It is according to Your most sacred will that they would live a hundred years, or dissipate like vapor in the vast ocean, here for a moment, and gone the next.
Aslan, if it is Your will that Edmund should come to be with You, in that Place where water meets sky, where the waves grow sweet like the tears of a man renewed by grace, my good lord, I commend to you his spirit. I return to You this wonderful, precious gift that You gave to our keeping for but a fleeting moment… a moment that felt like Eternity for all the beauty and grace and joy and love that this child has brought into our lives.
Aslan, I surrender our son to You, if You deem that it is his time; that it is Your time to bring him home. I am leaving my pain, my bitterness, my anger, my resentment, my everything behind for the chance to see him again in Your Country. Your will be done, my Lord."
Here, Adam paused, for he knew in his soul that he was not being entirely truthful. He wanted to surrender, completely, but the seed of love that Aslan had planted in his heart when his sons had come into his life grew to be the size of a cold, sharp rock in a matter of moments, and it weighed him down—to the point that he knew he wouldn't be able to rise from the ground if he didn't say what he truly wanted to say.
"Still, I know that I can hide nothing from You. You know that underneath this facsimile of utter surrender... is a heart that holds on to Your promise. Your promise to listen to those who call upon You, to deliver those who seek Your salvation, and to heal those who require Your healing. Almighty Lion, if there is the smallest chance that my prayer can alter Your will, then I pray that You give us more time to be with Edmund. Give us more time to be with our son. Aslan, take as many years of my life and give it to my boy. Please... Aslan... Please... save our son, if You would. Please... save Edmund. Save our son..."
Despite his agony and the desire to beseech Aslan relentlessly for his son's healing, Adam concluded his prayer with praise and gratitude for the Pevensies' friendship, generosity, and unparalleled kindness. He asked that the Great Lion bless and keep Liam, Evelyn, and their daughters Susan and Lucy, and that no matter what happened to Edmund, the couple would find peace in their hearts, knowing they had done more than enough to help a neighbour in need.
His strength failed him as soon as he tried to get up off his knees. He would have sprawled face-first on the ground had someone not grabbed his arms and stabilized him.
"All right there, Adam?" asked Liam Pevensie, concern scrunching his brow. Standing timidly next to his friend was Peter, clutching something wooden in his hands.
"Just fine, Liam, thank you," Adam replied, accepting the hand Liam had just extended. "What have you got there, Pete?"
"It's a horse, Dad. Uncle Liam helped me make it for Edmund. I named it Phillip. He said he liked that name, because it stars with a 'P', like my name." Peter placed the wooden toy in his father's hand. "Is Eddie going to be better soon? Can I see him? I swear he didn't give me the cough. I got it from swallowing wrong."
Like it always did, Adam's heart softened at Peter's words. Some days he was guilty to doubting if Aslan loved him and his family as much as he loved other people, but he could always rely on Peter to love and care for his brother like only a young boy of his magnificence could.
"I'm sorry, sport, he's still far too ill. Perhaps—" he paused to clear the scratchiness in his throat brought about by emotions, "—Perhaps tomorrow, Edmund would be a little better. We all just have to be patient with him."
Peter's shoulders slumped in defeat, his face falling with them. Liam placed a comforting hand on the distraught boy's back. "I saw a video in science class. The… what's the word? The—the donor? He gave his heart to the sick boy. Can I do that? Can I give one of my lungs to Ed so that his other one won't collapse? Will I die if I do that? I mean… I… I don't mind… dying. I'm… I'm scared, but I'm even more scared of losing Ed. And also—"
"Oh, Peter," Adam cut his son's rambling off with a tight embrace, the tears he had been suppressing since Edmund had gotten ill again finally falling. "Leave your brother to Aslan. Aslan will take care of him, all right?"
Peter returned his father's embrace, sniffling as he let out tears of his own. "Then, can I at least not… not eat and drink like you? Mum said you're doing it to please Aslan. To show him that His grace is enough for you and for all of us. To help Edmund. Please, Dad, I want to help my baby brother."
"Son," Liam breathed through the lump forming in his throat, crouching beside the entangled father and son. "I'll tell you what. I'll fast along with your father. We'll please Aslan so much your brother will be bouncing off the walls in no time. Just have supper inside, all right? Your poor mother won't be able to take it if you get sick too."
There was a chorus of uninhibited sobbing from the pair of Leonidases before Liam, followed by a relentless and heartfelt "thank you, thank you, thank you," from his old friend.
A couple more days saw Edmund sitting weakly at the Pevensies' dining table, Phillip the wooden horse galloping to save Lucy's rabbit from the pig he held in his other hand. He still coughed from time to time, but it sounded considerably loose, his lungs no longer produced a frightening wheezing sound. Peter and Susan sat adjacent to each other next to the little ones as the former taught the latter how to play with the wooden chess set he had received from his Uncle Liam last Christmas.
"Thank you. Thank you so much to the both of you. If it wasn't for you—" Helen let go of Liam's and Evelyn's hands as she pressed both of hers against her lips once more. She wouldn't have bothered stifling her sobs in front of her dearest friends—if it wasn't for the children who were playing happily only a few meters where they sat at the living room.
"It wasn't us at all, Helen. It was your husband," Liam said, looking at his friend and brother-in-Spirit with nothing short of deep admiration and respect. "I have never seen anyone surrender themselves so completely to Him. He could have been punished for such a blatant display of faith, but he did not waver, for your Edmund."
Smiling brightly through her tears, Helen wrapped both of her arms around her husband, whom she noticed had gotten thin in the last few days due to his fast. Adam responded in kind, taking in the moment and basking in the scandalous grace and love that Aslan had shown him and his family. Again.
As Adam and Helen squeezed their eyes shut and tightened their hold on one another, Liam and Helen Pevensie took each other's hand, raised their free ones and let them hover over the couple, and whispered a brief yet heartfelt prayer.
May Aslan bless and keep you.
May Aslan's grace shine upon you.
May Aslan lift up His countenance upon you.
And give you peace.*
The prayer above was adapted from Aaronic Benediction from the book of Numbers 6:22-27.*