I don't own Narnia or the Pevensies. Insert witty afterthought here.
Author's Note: (Really late) gift fic for Loper42, reviewer number 200 of The Sea and the Siblings. I had two options - what if someone besides Lucy was first to enter Narnia, or why Susan turned away from them in The Last Battle. I chose the latter. So. Off you go.
Of all the things in the world, Peter most fears failure. It is the dark shadow that turns his sweet dreams into screaming nightmares of a dead family and his bloodstained hands; it is the little whisper, soft upon his ear, which assures him if ever something goes wrong then it must be because he failed to prevent it. It is the knowledge that as High King he cannot ever allow himself to falter. It is the weight of a nation and a people and a family on his shoulders, heavier than any wolf carcass.
Failure stabs at him in Susan's words, twice during their journey – "This is all your fault!" when Edmund slips away in the winter night and "What have you done?" when he stands and stares in horror at a river-drenched coat. It brings out the terror in his eyes when the Witch comes to claim his brother, and sets his stomach writhing at the trusting looks of his soldiers as he lowers his swords and orders the attack. Peter has not failed yet but he knows that he will in time. He lives in fear of that day.
When fate sets a tripwire and he topples back into his first world, Peter suddenly finds he has much less to be afraid of. In England, he stumbles and only a few select people are affected. If Peter falls a kingdom will not fall with him. He still fears failing Lucy and Ed and Susan, but because his actions are of so little consequence he doesn't really have an opportunity to cause any serious damage. After leaving Narnia, he breathes easier, and his nightmares are of badly-thrown cricket balls and bruises rather than badly-fought battles and his younger brother lying dead.
Peter is glad not to have so much responsibility, even if he will never admit it.
Lucy doesn't fear much; after all she is the Valiant. The little black spider that scuttles across the floor creates a fleeting sense of panic in the back of her mind, but then Edmund's fingers deftly pick it up and move it outdoors, and the threat is gone. She is momentarily afraid when first her brothers go off to war without Aslan, but then Susan's arms are around her and she knows it will be all right. When they're off hunting and the lone wolf springs from the underbrush she is truly petrified. But of course, Peter has not forgotten his other title and again Rhindon, sword of the Fenrisbane, is buried deep within the animal's chest and Lucy can go back to being fearless.
She supposes the only thing she really fears is being afraid. She doesn't like the feeling; it's strange and unfamiliar and it means that her family isn't there because when they are, she is never scared of anything. Scary is exciting to Lucy, at least when the others are with her. Still, in those rare moments when she is alone (her first night at the Cair, for instance), she finds that she is just a little bit scared because there is no one to tell her not to be. To everyone else, Lucy is Valiant because if she's around them she's not afraid.
When Lucy fearlessly sets off on another adventure – into the thicket beyond the strange iron tree – nothing much changes. If anything, she has even less to be frightened of since now she is with her brothers and sister all the time. They spend lazy days together, remembering Narnia and pondering what to do next, occasionally speaking to the Professor about it, and Lucy is back to being afraid of spiders because it's expected of her, not because she actually is. She finds new ways to be excited. And sooner or later, she grows used to making her own adventures and sharing a room with Susan.
Lucy misses real danger, even if she will never admit it.
Edmund's greatest fear usually brings itself out at nighttime. When he's lying there in the silk sheets and staring up at the ceiling, sleepless, he grows far too aware that there is no Lucy to hug him, no Susan to hold him, no Peter to place a reassuring hand upon his shoulder. And he will turn restlessly over and over, the door to sleep locked to him, remembering another time when things were like this; he remembers ice for a pillow and frost for blankets and iron manacles on his ankles, but mostly he remembers having no Lucy to hug him, no Susan to hold him and not even Peter to chastise him for running off. Because, of course, Edmund's greatest fear is being alone.
His family tries to make him understand that even if they're not technically standing there, they will still be with him always. He wants to believe them, and on those restless nights he will try to tell himself that, but more often than not he winds up cursing his own weakness and attempting to stem the frightened tears that prick painfully at his eyes. Then about this time he will always hear the creak of his bedroom door. A little slant of light will cross his face, and he will pretend to be asleep because he doesn't want them to worry. If it is Lucy, she will clamber onto his bed and wrest the blankets from him, then tuck them both in and put her arms around him, whispering anything and everything. If it is Susan, she will take a seat in one of the chairs by his bed and quietly speak to him until he drifts into a dreamless slumber. If it is Peter, then Edmund will feel the bed dip by his head and a calloused hand pushing the bangs away from his face or resting on his shoulder. Peter will never say anything, but Edmund will know.
When he follows the others, unwilling to be left behind, he finds himself in the world that was dreary and oh-so-lonely when he left it, but it seems different somehow. He is no longer alone, no longer the odd one out. He belongs now, and as he spends the days with the siblings he would have given anything to be rid of many years ago (or only a week, depending on who you ask) he realizes that he wasn't even alone before. He will never be alone. His family has tried to hard to make him learn this, and it is now in the context of a formerly cold world that he finally understands it.
Edmund is beyond thankful to have such a family, even if he will never admit it.
Susan, the most regal and dignified of them, has a much subtler fear. It isn't the kind that stops her heart in her chest or makes her lie up at nights. Rather it is a quiet, erosive doubt that makes her resolve break and her hands tremble when she fires her bow. She will always take the safer road, the less hazardous option, the guarantee, because frankly she would rather be called a coward and live than be a dead hero; she would rather have a sure way to come out even than risk losing anything. Susan is afraid, not of failure or of fear or of loneliness, but of being wrong.
Susan is glad that Peter is there, because he will make the decisions and if things go badly they can't say it was her bad judgment. Immediately she feels guilty when these thoughts come, but she cannot help but think them. She does not believe in heroics like the others. Sometimes when she sits upon her throne with a crown on her head and a country at her feet, she thinks back and wonders if it was worth all the risks they took before – she wonders, if another adventure like their first is offered, would she take the chance that Edmund (or Peter or Lucy, for that matter) would fall again? Even if there was the possibility of bettering Narnia? But the answer is always no. It is better to be safe.
When Susan voices her disapproval but follows anyway – they can't say she didn't tell them – she is shocked and surprised, but a little satisfied. She was right. It led to no good. She misses Narnia as much as any of them but doesn't worry about it much, because there's not really any point in it anymore. And eventually she stops even talking about it with them. Societal life calls her and messages bombard her – she must dress this way, and powder her face just so, and attend the following parties – and because she is as afraid of being wrong as ever, she listens to them. More people tell her she is beautiful and more men send her their invitations, and Susan becomes increasingly convinced that she is right, and this is her life. Narnia seems like a faraway dream now. With so many people telling her so, it is easy to say it was only a game of their imaginations. She will ignore the tears Lucy sheds and the burning anger in Ed's eyes and even the sorrowful, disappointed look that Peter gives her, because she just knows that she is right this time, and they are but children, too large for their old world but unable to find their way in the new one. And then the telegram comes.
Susan was wrong, even if she will never admit it.