Disclaimer: I own nothing in this marvelous universe; it all belongs to C.S. Lewis.
A/N: Because we can always use another Peter and Ed one-shot :winks, grinning:. I actually wrote some of this when I was still recovering from a particularly nasty cold, and it made me feel better. So I suppose colds can be good for something :grins again:.
A Note On Nighttime Demons and Those Who Speak: I'm currently a little stuck on my next chapter of ND and am slowly working through TWS. Either way, my big stories aren't coming along as quickly as I'd like them to. I've written portions of both, but have to weave them together in a more coherent semblance of a story. When I get them done, I'll post, but not before. So please do not spam me (in reviews or e-mail) with requests to update. :grins: I'm glad you all enjoy my stories, truly I am, but I work at my own pace. I will, of course, get the chapters out as soon as possible, but that might be less soon than some would like. At any rate, please enjoy the story I've written below.
.:The Greatest Lesson:.
By Sentimental Star
(The Pevensie Home, Early December 1944)
The house was quiet. Their mother had taken the girls out Christmas shopping earlier today, leaving him under strict orders to rest. This was perfectly all right with him, considering he felt utterly miserable.
It was a chilly day during the last of autumn, and he had returned home for the winter hols with one of the final colds of the term. He distinctly remembered absolutely hating it whenever he caught colds in Narnia, and this one was no different. Except for the fact they were in England.
As the second coughing fit in ten minutes wracked his body, the fifteen-year-old gave a soft groan and curled up on the couch in the living room, hugging one of his mother's quilts around his shoulders as he shivered.
He really, really did not like colds.
At first as he lay there, he tried to read a book. But after several unsuccessful attempts at keeping himself focused, found his eyes sliding shut.
Marking his place, the teenager let the book slip from his fingers to the floor, where it landed with a dull thud.
He was asleep two minutes later.
An hour passed without any sort of sound interrupting the silence that had fallen. Even the coughs had stopped for the most part.
Therefore, when the door knob of the front door slowly clicked open, it creaked rather loudly.
But the young man could be a heavy sleeper, even more so when he was sick. And when the door was pushed fully open and a taller boy slipped in, carrying several bags, the figure on the sofa did not stir.
Not even when the second youth whispered loudly, "Hallo, Ed? Lu? Susan?"
No answering whisper responded to him. Only a quiet cough.
A mischievous grin flitted across the older teenager's face as he made his way on cat-like feet across the foyer floor and into the living room.
Whatever deeds of mischief he had been thinking about working, however, went out of his head in the next moment at the discomfort on his younger brother's face. "Ed…" he breathed, lowering his bags to the ground.
He tensed automatically as a rather more severe coughing fit seized Edmund's body, shaking him from head to toe.
Quickly dropping to his knees, he soothed the younger boy's brow. "Shh," he hushed him, "shh."
Whether it was because of the long years they had spent together or because it was just Peter (it was actually both), Edmund gradually relaxed at his older brother's touch. Straight back into sleep.
The eighteen-year-old sighed gratefully and leaning down, kissed the other boy's somewhat warm forehead. "You never do something like this halfway, do you, Ed?" he whispered.
Edmund's only response was another light cough and the subconscious burrowing of his head into the older teen's shoulder.
In spite of everything, Peter had to smile. "Missed you, too," he murmured.
Gently, he eased Edmund up off the couch and carefully gathered him into his arms, fifteen though the younger boy was. Cautiously, he slid onto the couch behind him, stretching out to his full length, before tenderly settling his brother on top of him.
And through it all, amazingly, Edmund never woke once.
The smile Peter wore turned into an outright grin as the younger teenager made a small noise of content and buried his face in the crook of the elder's neck.
It was a rare occurrence, indeed, for his younger brother to consciously snuggle against him. And Aslan save you if you even mentioned the word.
But that was, quite simply, what Edmund did. When he was asleep and Peter was in the vicinity, anyway.
Reaching up, the eighteen-year-old carded his fingers affectionately through Edmund's dark hair, fingering the lengthening ends. "You need a haircut, Ed," he muttered fondly.
Edmund's brow creased, and mumbling something incoherent in his sleep, he turned his face further into Peter's neck. The older boy tried desperately not to laugh as his brother's hair tickled his skin.
The suppressed chuckles subsided as the fifteen-year-old shifted once again so that his head now fell onto Peter's shoulder.
It was at about this point that the older of the two realized just how much he had missed his brother. His fingers, still tangled in Edmund's hair, tightened briefly, before they resumed their stroking and his eyes went unfocused.
He didn't pretend to understand it, really. Why Edmund could make him cave where even Lucy could not. Why Edmund's heartbeat was even now lulling him to sleep when he had been wide awake just moments before.
He loved his little brother deeply, that he knew. But to love him this deeply…Peter didn't think he quite had a right to.
He shook his head in amazement, continuing to stroke his brother's hair. "What happened to us in Narnia, Ed?" he murmured. "How did we go from practically hating each other…to this? You're the most important person in my life now."
Lucy may have been his favorite sister, but Edmund was his favorite sibling. Besides being his best friend.
As his hand slipped from the younger teenager's hair to rest gently on the side of Edmund's face, Peter lowered his voice, "And why did you have to return the favor? I was so cruel to you five years ago…"
It was something he had never quite forgiven himself for, although the girls (and Edmund, come to think of it) had told him a thousand times that he had a guilt complex and should just accept the fact that he wasn't responsible for every little thing that went wrong. But this was not a fudged trade agreement or a lost battle. This was his brother. And each time the slightest shadow flitted across Edmund's all-too-expressive countenance, a sharp pang went through Peter's heart.
He supposed he should have been upset. Even angry. But, Good Lord…how could he?
Edmund was safe. That was all that mattered.
Edmund was safe. He could barely remember why he had been so furious with his brother in the first place. Really, he should have been angry at himself.
This was no one's fault but his own.
As Edmund made the descent from the precipice where he had been standing with Aslan, Peter found great difficulty in looking away from the younger boy. Even for a moment.
His brother looked absolutely exhausted, and his face touted dark bruises, a small cut near one eye, and a split lip. All evidence of previous abuse.
Vaguely, he was aware of biting the inside of his cheek, hard enough to draw blood.
But he wouldn't cry. He…would not…cry…
His eyesight blurred. He hadn't cried then. But he was starting to cry now. One tear had already welled up and trickled down his cheek to land among the dark strands of Edmund's hair, strewn across the younger teen's face and Peter's shoulder.
Swallowing hard, the older boy started rubbing slow circles across his brother's back with both his hands, trying to calm their trembling.
"Peter!" the cry came from behind him and seconds later, as he whipped around, Lucy collided with his middle. Wrapping her small arms around his waist as far as they would go, she hugged him fiercely and he held her with all the strength his shaking arms could muster.
"Where's Edmund?" Susan's anxious demand from beside him, where she was gripping his shoulder, caused him to tremble harder.
Tears which burnt like fire rose into his eyes as he looked at her. "I don't know," he choked.
Peter's hands clenched convulsively in the folds of Edmund's winter sweater, making him stir and mumble in momentary complaint, but otherwise, fall silent. A second tear leaked out of his eye, and fell to join its companion on the dark head beneath his cheek.
The ache from those memories had never really subsided. They cut just as deeply as they had the moment they occurred.
Yet, for all the pain they caused, he could not deny they had taught him the greatest lesson he could ever hope to learn.
He privately thought to himself, as he ducked into their tent long after the wounded had been healed and the dead buried, that this was far too much emotion for one person to feel. Because long after his sword had been sheathed, and Edmund given Lu's cordial, Peter's hands were still shaking.
They had been shaking all throughout his brother's knighting, all throughout their assisting the wounded, all throughout their supper and the celebration…They were shaking even now.
He did not tell his siblings, but he had thrown-up that supper. In the dark and the privacy of an isolated stand of trees just on the edge of camp. Then returned, in enough time not to be missed.
When Edmund had left halfway into the celebration, steps flagging with exhaustion, Peter had waited a tactful moment before following.
He paused once inside the tent, letting his eyes adjust to the dim light of sunset.
At its center, Edmund fumbled wearily with his armor.
"Need any help with that, Ed?" he spoke up softly, voice never going above a whisper. He prayed he sounded cheerful.
His brother jumped slightly, before unsteadily turning to face him. His eyes were lidded heavily with fatigue.
Peter swallowed, grateful for the poor light. He was sure his own face displayed quite clearly the turmoil he felt within.
Edmund seemed to have woken up a bit more. At the very least, he straightened. "P…Peter. Sure."
A little of the tension in Peter's shoulders eased as he made his way across the tent. Kneeling in front of his younger brother, he started gently unbuckling his shin guards. He was probably doing this a great deal slower than he normally ought to, and used any excuse he was given to brush even faintly against Edmund's warm skin. But he quite simply could not bring himself to care.
If his brother thought it odd that Peter's hand lingered perhaps a bit longer than it should have on his arm, or over his heart, or on his shoulder, or against his face, he did not say anything, but let Peter have his way. Soon enough, the armor was gone, and the chain mail was not too long in following.
A deeply relieved sigh echoed through their tent. But the thirteen-year-old could not tell if it had been Edmund…or himself. Perhaps it was both.
Deciding not to dwell on it, Peter quickly stripped himself of his own armor and mail, lowering it to the ground in a rather disorganized heap.
Edmund smiled tiredly at him. "Thinking of heading to bed, too?"
The older boy just nodded, going to stand.
But when Peter's hand not-quite-accidentally brushed against the other boy's side where the blood stains could still be seen on the cloth, everything came to an abrupt standstill.
He wasn't quite sure how long he spent staring at that spot. He could not even be sure he was seeing it as it was at the moment—merely a stain. All he could see was a flash of bright, insidious blue and his little brother's white face, twisted harshly with pain.
Then slim fingers reached down and tenderly clasped his own. "Your hands are trembling, Peter," Edmund murmured, crouching down to study the older boy's face.
Peter's eyes felt wet as he finally lifted his head to gaze up at Edmund. His brother gazed back at him in deep concern, clearly trying to read his expression.
Swallowing hard against the rapidly growing lump in his throat, the older boy slowly wrapped the fingers of his free hand around Edmund's wrist and gently pulled the ten-year-old forward into his lap.
With some careful maneuvering and rearranging, he managed to lean against one of the solid posts of his hammock, Edmund between his legs and firmly cradled against his chest. He dared not speak. Could not. Emotion choked him and his arms were tight. His face remained buried in the younger boy's neck.
And Edmund let him be.
For hours they sat like that, oblivious to the revelry going on outside. Oblivious to anything except each other. And soon, Edmund was oblivious to Peter, too—for his exhaustion had finally won out and he drifted off to sleep.
Long after his brother had fallen asleep, long after the last of the revelers had gone to bed, Peter held him. Midnight came and went, but Peter's eyes never closed. Dawn came, the camp stirred, but Peter never moved. Except to place his hand over Edmund's steadily beating heart.
Edmund had woken that morning to find himself still held in his older brother's arms. And Peter was of the opinion that, had their sisters not entered the tent and dragged them outside for breakfast, he would have continued sitting there well into the coronation.
Neither brother had ever really spoken about Peter's vigil that night. Not even a year later, when Edmund confronted him about a dive he had taken to save the younger boy from a Cyclops's spiked club.
He had been injured severely in that dive, and Edmund hadn't understood how Peter could be so willing to die for him. From that…er…"discussion," had surfaced the one messy issue they hadn't been allowed to deal with until then: why Peter could so easily forgive his "traitor" of a brother.
That was the first time Peter told Edmund he loved him.
Edmund's shoulders quivered underneath Peter's hands as he cried against his older brother's bandaged chest. "Why?" the younger boy moaned. "Why? How can you?"
Peter tried to keep his tone light. "Ed, usually at this point, you say, 'I love you' back."
Edmund did not appear to hear him. A sob: "How can you?"
Peter sighed, silently cursing his brother's stubborn refusal to believe him. Pressing the eleven-year-old close, he murmured, "Because…you're a treasure, Ed. A treasure, you hear?" He finally wrapped his arms around the younger boy's shoulders. "And don't you ever forget that."
(Two Hours Later)
Peter woke to whispers some two hours later. He hadn't even been aware that he had fallen asleep.
Feeling far too comfortable to completely rouse himself, yet, he kept his eyes shut, breathing softly, and listened.
"I'm surprised Edmund isn't crushing him. He's always been smaller than Peter, but still, he's fifteen…"
A quiet giggle. "Susan, you know very well that Peter's done this for years. Remember? Even when he was twenty-eight and Ed was twenty-five. I somehow think Peter doesn't mind, really…"
"It's nothing, Lu."
"Okay." Their younger sister sounded doubtful.
"What's this about twenty-eight and twenty-five?" their mother's soft voice entered the conversation now.
"Nothing, Mum," Susan's voice answered swiftly. "Lucy was just remarking how when Peter's twenty-eight and Edmund's twenty-five, he'll probably still be doing this whenever Edmund's sick."
Their mother sounded amused. "I wouldn't be surprised. He's done this before, hasn't he? I've found the two of them in the same bed more times than I can count over the past four years or so. Of course, you two always somehow manage to end up in Edmund's room, as well…"
Lucy's giggle sounded again. "Yes, he's done this before. Even when Ed wasn't sick at the Professor's house. If he was sleeping on the couch, or taking a nap on his bed, Peter always snuck into the room, and they always ended up like this." She giggled once more. "And it always startled Edmund when he woke up. I think that's half the reason Peter did it so much. He found it amusing."
Actually, that wasn't even a quarter of the reason. But he'd never told her that.
"What is the other half?" their mother asked quietly.
There was the barest second of hesitation on Lucy's part. "…You know Ed almost died while we were there, right?"
A pause, and Peter imagined their mother's lips were set in a thin, pained line. "Yes. That is not something a mother usually forgets."
He heard a faint swallow from above him and a small hand gently brushed back a few wisps of his hair. Lucy's voice was very, very soft as she finished, "I think…I think Peter blames himself…for what happened."
At that point, Peter decided he'd better stop pretending and quit eavesdropping.
Faking a yawn, he blinked open his eyes and smiled warmly up at the young face hovering above him. "Hello, Lu."
There was a startled yelp from his younger sister and she stumbled backwards towards a chair that he was sure hadn't been there when he'd come in. Only, she didn't quite make the chair, and promptly sat on the floor, a familiar leather-bound book and pencil tumbling into her lap.
The sketchbook he'd given her for her thirteenth birthday.
Glancing at the book, he turned back to his little sister and raised an eyebrow. "Please tell me you weren't sketching us."
Her initial shock past, Lucy grinned—a trifle wickedly—at him. "All right. I won't."
Peter rolled his eyes fondly. "Why do I even bother?"
Lucy's grin widened. "Because I'm your absolute, favoritest little sister in the whole world?"
The older boy smirked slightly. "Sure. And you're my only little sister, too." He shot his own grin up at Susan as the older girl leaned down to kiss his forehead. "Because I'm certain Su would kill me if I called her 'little.'"
She gave his free shoulder a light slap, smiling. "And don't you ever dare."
He tipped her a salute, still grinning, as she moved to sit on the floor next to the arm of the sofa he was using for a headrest.
Lucy had, by this point, gained her feet and now stood facing him, hands on her hips and her own smile threatening to break free. "You're a big meanie, Peter Pevensie."
Feeling far more refreshed than he had when first entering the house, Peter allowed his smirk to widen. "But you love me anyway."
Bright, clear laughter reminded the three coherent Pevensie siblings that their mother was still in the room with them.
Peter raised his head with a sheepish smile to look at her where she stood in the threshold to the kitchen, drying her hands on her apron. "Hello, Mum," he greeted her softly.
Smiling, she made her way over to the couch and leaned down to kiss his forehead. "Hello, darling. Welcome home."
Before she pulled back completely, she brushed her hand through Edmund's hair. "He seems to have lost a bit of his fever," she murmured to no one in particular. "Good."
Another quick smile down at her oldest, and she left her children sitting together in the living room to continue with supper. The smell of baking bread was even now filling the house.
When she had returned to the kitchen, Peter turned and raised his eyebrow at Lucy again, holding out his free arm with an expectant look on his face.
She grinned, and barreled lightly into his side, cuddling against him.
Peter dropped a warm kiss on top of her head. "I've missed you three," he murmured, including Susan in the wistful smile he bestowed on Lucy.
"We've missed you," Susan replied quietly, brushing an errant strand of hair back in place.
Lucy stirred and pulled away from him slightly, pouting. "Yes. Isn't there more than just one break that you can come home for from the university?"
Peter's smile grew slightly. "Certainly. There's spring break and summer break and--"
Lucy made a face. "I mean this term." Her voice softened. "It seems like you've been gone an awful long time."
The eighteen-year-old's smile saddened. Dropping a second kiss on her forehead, he whispered, "I think I can manage something."
She looked hopefully at him. "Next term, too?"
"Lucy!" Susan scolded quietly.
Peter shook his head at her, still smiling slightly. "It's all right, Su." He turned a wider smile to Lucy. "Yes. Next term, too. I promise."
The younger girl grinned at him and buried her head back against his side.
"Peter, you don't have to promise that. I mean, it's the university. Surely you can't afford to come home so frequently?" Susan pointed out gently.
The older boy shook his head again. "I have to, Su. The three of you will always be more important than schoolwork. If I really can't come home, then I won't. But if I have an opportunity to, I'll take it. And if I'm really needed at home, I'll come back then, too."
"But what if you have a major exam at that time? You can't be in two places at once," she insisted softly.
Peter merely looked at her. "Do you honestly not know the answer to that?"
Susan gave up with a faint, amused huff, a small smile pulling at her lips at the determination on her oldest brother's face. "Oh, all right. I'll never win this."
Peter grinned. "Of course not."
When Lucy pulled away, sitting on her heels, the older boy leveled the two girls with a slight frown. "Why didn't anyone tell me Ed was sick?" He kept his voice low, and tried not to sound accusing.
"Because I knew you'd rush home if they did," a hoarse voice answered him.
Peter barely managed to stifle his surprised yell, almost falling off the couch as he jumped. As it was, his upper body very nearly ended up in Lucy's lap. But she moved away at the last moment, closer to Susan, and hid her giggle, so now it was more of his being half-on and half-off the couch.
"Ed!" he gasped. "By the Lion, you startled me!"
His younger brother, whom he had somehow still managed to hang onto, blinked his eyes open, chuckling slightly. But that chuckle soon turned in a two minute coughing fit.
Alarmed, Peter quickly hauled himself fully back up onto the sofa and began vigorously rubbing the younger teenager's back. "Easy, Ed, easy."
After the fit passed, Edmund gave a long, low groan and promptly buried his face back in Peter's chest. "I hate colds," he grumbled. "I can't even laugh properly."
His brother's own soft laughter rumbled pleasantly in the older boy's chest. "It'll pass, Ed."
"Yes," the fifteen-year-old grumped, "in about two weeks."
Peter grinned, resting his hand against Edmund's cheek again and gently lifting the younger boy's face away from his chest. "Well, just in time for Christmas then."
He could have sworn the other teenager was pouting at him. "You're no help," Edmund complained good-naturedly, voice rasping.
Peter chuckled again.
At that moment their mother came in from the kitchen. "Edmund, darling, you're up?"
"More or less," he managed to get out scratchily.
Peter had to bite his bottom lip very hard not to burst out laughing again. Edmund sensed his amusement anyway. Turning to his older brother, he scowled, "Shut up, Peter." But the effect was really rather lost as he could barely talk above a squeak.
Peter lost it. His shoulders shaking with silent mirth, the eighteen-year-old leaned forward to hide his face against Edmund's neck.
The fifteen-year-old frowned, but couldn't object. Literally. Besides, a laughing older brother was better than a dead one. Although at the rate Peter was going, Edmund wasn't sure if he'd strangle him by the day's end anyhow.
He really, really, really did not like colds.
The two girls were also giggling by now, and Edmund tried to glare at them, but found it a trifle difficult as they were practically keeling over with laughter.
So he just settled to looking petulant. "You're not nice," he whined childishly, voice still very hoarse.
If anything, it only made his siblings laugh harder.
Mrs. Pevensie wisely checked her own laughter as she came to check on her youngest son, although a smile remained on her lips. It slipped, however, when she gently pressed her hand to his forehead. "Oh, sweetheart, your fever's risen again."
Edmund grimaced and looked down as that statement put an end to his siblings' laughter. The only thing he hated more than colds was when his siblings worried over him. And the only thing he hated more than his siblings worrying over him, was the look it brought to Peter's face. The look, he was quite sure, which his brother was probably wearing right now, as the older boy pulled back and gazed at him.
It was one of soul-shattering pain, and of heart-rending grief, neither of which had ever quite dulled. It was one of bone-aching guilt and gut-wrenching fear, although Aslan only knew, his older brother tried to hide it. Guilt and grief and pain and fear which had their origins on a bloody, green battlefield in the midst of a magical spring.
He never told Peter he saw that look, that he understood it, or that his older brother was wrong. So very wrong. But then, Peter had always been the one sibling he could read the easiest, even more than little Lu (although she truly wasn't so little anymore) who wore her heart on her sleeve.
Susan, apparently sensing the direction both her brothers' thoughts were headed in, swiftly climbed to her feet, garnering the attention of all three of her siblings and her mother. Motioning to Lucy to stand, she turned to the older woman, "Mother, could you use some help finishing up supper?"
Mrs. Pevensie blinked at her oldest daughter in slight confusion. "Help would be very much welcome, darling, but don't you two wish to stay with your brothers?"
When Lucy (who had stood nonetheless) went to answer (presumably 'yes'), Susan beat her to it, "It's all right, Mother. Let them have some time to themselves." She gave Lucy a significant look.
Her little sister quickly caught on. "Mum, aren't you making carrot cake for dessert? You haven't begun it, yet, right?"
Their mother finally understood—to a certain degree. She smiled and motioned the girls towards the kitchen, "Of course." And re-entered the kitchen.
Susan quirked a soft smile at Edmund who smiled gratefully, if wearily, back at her before dissolving into another coughing fit.
She gave him one, last, worried look as Peter started rubbing his back again, then ducked into the kitchen on her mother's heels.
Lucy stayed until this fit was past, gently rubbing his arm.
Peter looked up at her after it had run its course and Edmund was curled into his chest again. "Lu, do me a favor, will you? Grab a bowl of warm water and a cloth, and then bring it back to me." He gazed down anxiously at his younger brother, who was wheezing just the slightest bit from the wracking coughs. "Drop a little scent in it, too, perhaps."
Her eyes slightly wide, Lucy gave a quick nod and scurried off to do as she had been told.
Peter's heart broke when he realized a few drops of liquid had squeezed through his fingers. His breath caught slightly, "Ed?" he whispered.
"I…It's nothing, Peter," he wheezed. "My…my chest hurts…a little."
The first white hot tendrils of panic began to creep into Peter's mind. "Why?" he asked a little too quickly.
Edmund raised his head and scowled slightly at his older brother. "Calm…down, you great…git," he rasped. "It's nothing serious."
But Peter was not appeased. "Serious? What's not serious? You're crying, Edmund!"
"Because it's not exactly fun having difficulty breathing!" the younger boy retorted…and immediately dissolved into another minor coughing fit. After it passed, Edmund gave a low groan and clenched his fingers in his brother's blazer, burying his burning face in the older boy's neck. "Please, Peter," he wheezed, "just…just help."
He knew what it had cost his brother to say that. The younger boy absolutely hated being fussed over.
But the fifteen-year-old had asked for help, and Peter had never been able to very easily refuse him anything. Least of all that. His own throat suddenly feeling very tight, Peter raised his hand and slowly began to rub soothing circles over the younger teen's chest.
He was quite surprised, and more than a little relieved, to hear Edmund's breathing ease several moments later. "Ed?" he asked, startled. "What did I do?"
He could have sworn Edmund was smiling against him. "Nothing but be a big brother."
That smile widened. "You didn't know? Big brothers have a special sort of magic to them. Always helps."
Peter blinked down at him. That was…kind of sweet, actually. Although Aslan forbid he tell Edmund that. "Thanks. I think."
His younger brother merely grinned and, surprising the eighteen-year-old a bit more, shifted so he could wrap his arms around the other boy's neck in something of an impromptu hug.
Peter stared at him for a few seconds before slowly crossing his arms across Edmund's back and hesitantly resting his cheek against the younger teenager's soft hair. It had been a while since they had last done this.
Lucy called it "cuddling," and Edmund disliked that word just about as much as he disliked the word "snuggle." The incidents of cuddling, therefore, were just about as rare as the incidents of snuggling.
"Guess you missed me, too, huh?" he whispered.
He was certain he wasn't imagining things when Edmund's arms tightened slightly. There was a small nod against his neck.
"You heard what I promised Lucy?" he asked softly.
A small grin, another nod.
Peter rolled his eyes fondly. "Couldn't actually be bothered to make your presence known, could you?"
Edmund gave a closed-mouth laugh and miraculously avoided another coughing fit.
The older boy sighed in mock-exasperation, but sobered. "I intend to keep it, Ed."
The younger finally spoke up again: "I know you will, Peter," he responded hoarsely.
Peter gave a soft, non-threatening sort of growl. "Quiet, you. Or else you won't be able to speak at all…" He paused, looking thoughtful, "Although…that might not necessarily be a bad thing…"
Edmund merely smirked. "I'd hit you," he rasped, "but I'm too comfortable."
Peter rolled his eyes again, grinning. "Well, thank Aslan for small miracles." /And the big ones/ he couldn't help adding in his mind, gazing down at his slightly better younger brother.
They lay together in relative peace for a short while, until Lucy came and dropped off the basin of warm water and a washcloth. However, she simply grinned knowingly when she saw their position and, placing the bowl on the nearby coffee table, left without so much as another word.
Peter dunked the washcloth in the bowl, releasing a waft of the scent—peppermint. "This ought to help a bit more, Ed," he murmured to the fifteen-year-old, who'd just suffered through another series of wracking coughs.
Almost immediately, as he raised the wet cloth and started gently running it over his brother's face, Edmund's breathing took on an easier cadence. Peter's breathing, although he tried to hide it, matched it.
There was a sigh against his neck. "Why do you always feel so guilty?" murmured, and Peter wasn't even sure if it was directed at him.
Hoping it wasn't, the older boy asked cautiously, placing the cloth back in the water for the time being, "What do you mean, Ed?"
"You bloody well know what I mean, Peter," he rasped, raising his head slightly and glaring at his brother. "You're wearing the same sodding look you always do whenever I'm injured or sick, and I've had it! I know you love me—you've only told me that a thousand times—and I'm grateful for it, more than you could ever know, but I've had it! I have this ruddy cold because of viruses or bacteria or some such thing—not because you did anything. You've only just gotten home!"
He promptly dissolved into another coughing fit.
Peter could only stare at him, eyes large, and vigorously started rubbing his back again. When the fit passed, Edmund gave a breath sob, "Why? Why…must you kill yourself…over something that's beyond your control?"
The older boy clenched his eyes shut, tightening his arms around his younger brother. His voice cracked, and it was a testament to how strong their relationship now was that the words simply came, "Because my heart stopped on that battlefield when we found you," he choked out. "You died on that battlefield, Ed. You died—for only a minute, yes, but if Lucy hadn't been there, if she hadn't had her cordial…! And all because I wasn't looking, all because I wasn't fast enough and could not protect you. If I hadn't driven you to the Witch, if you'd never met her--"
"--Then I would have done the exact same thing," Edmund retorted, voice rapidly growing hoarser.
"Ed, don't try to talk. You'll--"
"I jolly well will talk, Peter! Because you're being an absolute idiot, and you need to know!" He levered himself up again and continued glaring at the older boy. "We've never gone through this, and we need to now! None of what I did in Narnia all those years ago was your fault!"
"How can you say that?" Peter asked painfully, blue eyes stark with regret and shimmering with tears. "I was a complete beast to you before we went to Narnia. If I had only let you know how much I cared, if I had only showed you the affection I did Lucy and Susan, if I had only been there for you in school…you can't say that wouldn't have mattered!"
Edmund sighed wearily and lowered his head back down to rest in the crook of his brother's neck. "Perhaps it would have. But, Peter, you have to remember, we were in two completely different forms. You could hardly be rushing about after me all day, and I certainly didn't make it any easier for you. If you had tried any harder—and you already tried hard enough—I probably wouldn't have accepted it. It might have even made it worse. You know, Peter…you know what I was like before going to boarding school. Who I was then, wasn't who I was in school, or even, really, who I am now. You know that!"
Peter started stroking his hair. "I can't forgive myself just like that," the eighteen-year-old choked.
The younger teen raised his head and scowled fiercely at him. "You should." He dropped the scowl and gazed seriously into the older boy's eyes, remarking quietly, "I have."
Peter's breath caught, "You mean you--"
Edmund's gaze remained unwavering. "Yes. I never blamed you, actually. Not really."
The fifteen-year-old shook his head, leaning down to press his cheek to Peter's forehead. "You have to, or else you'll never really be at peace about it. I ought to know." He gave his brother a crooked grin. "I couldn't forgive myself for a long time, you know. That first year we were in Narnia? Every day I wondered how on earth everyone could have forgiven me so easily, when I couldn't even forgive myself. I was working myself into the ground, I know. I saw it on your face and in the girls' eyes. But I couldn't begin to care, really. Scary, that, not caring what was happening to me."
Peter clutched Edmund's shoulders. "You don't know how scary," the older boy muttered.
The younger smiled sadly. "I can imagine, knowing you."
Peter gave a faint snort, a few tears finally trickling down his cheeks. "What changed? I mean, after you turned eleven you…"
"A certain dive in front of a Cyclops's spiked club by my overprotective big brother comes to mind," Edmund replied, voice just the slightest bit thick and still scratchy.
Peter, in spite of himself, managed a small chuckle. Reaching up as the younger teen pulled away slightly, he rested his hand lightly against the side of his brother's face. "So what I said…"
Edmund gave him a somewhat watery smile. "…Pretty much reversed the cycle. It wasn't easy, those next few years, struggling to forgive myself. I'm not sure if I ever managed to completely. It still hurts, sometimes, knowing what I did, and knowing what I almost lost because of what I did. But knowing that you love me, knowing that you thought that of me…I've more than managed to live with it." He pulled himself up so that he and Peter were looking at each other directly eye to eye. "I love you, Peter. I love you, you hear? So stop blaming yourself for something that was long ago resolved."
Peter gave a strangled laugh, pulling his brother down into a tight hug and burying his face in the younger boy's dark hair as several more tears wended their way down his cheeks. "I hear you, Ed," he managed thickly, chuckling again. "I hear you."
A/N: :rubs face, giving a tired laugh: Wow. Finished. And another ridiculously long one, too. Not that I mind too much :grins wearily:. Well, what do you think? Does it seem too convoluted, or feel incomplete? I had a lot I wanted to get in, but I'm not sure if it worked. Let me know!