I don't own Narnia or the Pevensies. I do wish I could be a part of them.
Two-year-old Peter kneels on the sill with his face pressed against the frosty window, his breathing turning the glass misty and both his astonishingly blue eyes scanning the snowy world outside. His old neighbour, Mrs. Doyle, is sitting in one of the chairs in the living room with the paper out, but she isn't really reading it; she keeps trying but eventually she'll look up at Peter and then out the window again, fidgety and nervous. The fire is dying but the boy doesn't seem to notice.
"Are you sure you don't want to come and play a game?" Mrs. Doyle asks at last, breaking the silence. Peter doesn't turn from the window, just shakes his head so that his nose leaves a trail and stays still. He is an astonishingly patient child. Sighing, the old woman rustles her paper and goes back to not reading, eyes darting between the print and the doorway, wondering, worrying.
It is another forty minutes before Peter moves. He slips down from the sill and hurries on stiff, faltering legs, falling to the floor once without a cry and immediately rising to come to stand before the front door. Mrs. Doyle sets down her paper, gaze questioning, as the little boy undoes the latch and pulls hard on the handle until the door is thrown open wide and a gust of impossibly cold air rushes into the room, ruffling the curtains and making them both shiver. And then, out of the gale and into the warm house there steps a worn-looking woman in black, her dark hair hanging limply over her face but a warm smile on her face as she reaches down to plant a kiss on her son's golden head. After her comes a man, shaking off his umbrella with one arm and carrying a bundle in the other, which the woman tenderly takes from him.
Peter looks up with wide, solemn eyes, standing on his tip-toes to try and see anything but the underside of his mother's arms. Mrs. Doyle has hurried over to help Helen with her coat, and Peter is momentarily ignored as the door swings shut and his father scuffs his boots to clear them of the considerable amount of snow that is sticking there, letting out a long breath and shrugging his own winter coat off. Understanding that he isn't needed at the moment, Peter holds back, but bounces a bit on his feet, impatient to see what he has been promised for almost a whole week now, and when the adults have fussed enough, they settle into the chairs with him trundling along behind them, and his mother at last pats the seat beside her.
Clambering up onto the sofa, he leans on her arm (his father tells him to stop and he does), then peers over into her lap, where his prize lies. She is fast asleep and tiny, with a pink little face and think black hair, and her hands are scrunched up like she wants something to hold – he offers his finger, and it is immediately taken, held in one delicate, minute hand. With shining eyes, Peter looks back up at his pleased mother and asks,
Helen Pevensie smiles tiredly, stroking the dark hair of her new child, and says,
Peter looks back down at his little sister.
"Su," he repeats. She does not wake, but continues to hold his finger.
Late that night, long past his bedtime, he creeps out of his bedroom and slips into his parents' where his old crib has been set up by Mrs. Doyle. Helen and Frank are asleep peacefully, holding one another, and Susan is no different though she holds a blanket rather than a person. Peter creeps as quietly as he can to the side, then takes hold of the bars and peers in at the baby. He repeats words his father might have said to him:
"I keep safe," he promises. With one last look at his sister, he pads back across the room and exits.
Four-year-old Peter is playing outside under the autumn trees, jumping onto the flame-coloured piles just to hear the crunch. Mrs. Doyle is watching him from the window, where she is attempting to feed Susan from a bottle (the baby girl will have none of this bottle-deception; she is steadfastly refusing to drink). His blue sweater stands out, like a slice of the sky dropped into the orange-brown world around him, making it easy for the old lady to keep track of him as they wait for Mr. and Mrs. Pevensie to return home from the hospital – it's a bit worrisome. This one wasn't due for a little while yet, and Mrs. Doyle just hopes Helen, who reminds her of her own daughter, and her little one are all right.
Peter comes in after a little while, grown tired with the leaves. He closes the door carefully behind him and walks over to his neighbour, crawling up onto the wide windowsill without permission. He isn't a terribly verbal child, but what he doesn't express it is still clear he understands. He holds out his hand, Mrs. Doyle places the bottle in it, glad of the help, and he brings it to his sister's lips. This time, instead of turning her head away, she looks at him with big, trusting brown eyes and suckles mildly. The three of them spend the next fifteen minutes peacefully, until the warm milk is gone and they can sit there in silence, waiting.
The car pulls up after a little while, and Mr. Pevensie hurries around the car to open the door for his wife, who has another bundle clutched to her chest. She is looking rather ill, and Frank immediately takes it from her and places am arm around her shoulders, leading her to the door which Peter has opened for them both. When they come indoors, Frank ruffles his son's hair affectionately and offers a grateful nod to Mrs. Doyle, who has created a cosy place on the couch for Helen to sit down. The younger woman does so gratefully, then immediately reaches out for her newest child, who Peter has caught only a glimpse of – thick, curly black hair, a sharp nose and pale, almost translucent skin.
"Mum," Peter pipes up. She looks down at him, rocking the baby back and forth in her arms. He is awake, the blue eyes that will later become brown glinting dangerously. "What's his name?"
"Edmund, dear," Helen tells him. Peter nods, and glances over at Mrs. Doyle to make sure Susan is still all right before climbing up on the couch as before.
"Edmund," says Peter. He reaches out and takes the little hand in his, and the baby settles for this for a moment, then jerks away from his older brother. Peter looks hurt, but brushes it off and smiles happily up at his mother before motioning for Mrs. Doyle to bring Susan over, which she does.
"Su," he says to his baby sister, who is watching him suspiciously. He then points to Edmund, and takes her hand in his, and says, "Ed."
She doesn't seem to find this quite as fascinating as he does, but obligingly looks over at their new family member and makes some vague babbling noises in recognition. Helen and Frank share a smile from over the heads of their children.
Late that night, long past his bedtime, he creeps out of his bedroom and slips into his parents' where his old crib has been set up by Mrs. Doyle. Helen is deeply asleep, still wearied from her experience at the hospital, and Frank has his back turned to Peter, appearing asleep. In reality, he is awake, watching concernedly over his wife, but Peter doesn't know this so he silently comes to stand next to the crib, looking down at the little sleeping boy. Edmund's breathing is shallow but even. He is pale against the blue sheets. Peter grasps the bars and whispers to his brother,
"I will keep you safe."
Abruptly, the baby's eyes fly open and meet his challengingly, as if daring him to try. Edmund makes no noise. He simply stares at Peter for one long moment, then slowly closes his eyes. And Frank, after he has heard his eldest son shut the door with a quiet click, thinks this is something he ought to tell Helen when she wakes up.
Six-year-old Peter is playing pretend in the front yard with Susan; Edmund won't join them, he'd rather draw pictures with the stubby crayons Mrs. Doyle has brought over. Susan wants to be a queen when she grows up, so Peter has agreed to be her servant, and has made her a crown of twigs twisted into one another, having snapped off the twigs from the summer trees. Susan wears this crown proudly in her dark hair and orders him about. Mrs. Doyle, watching them from the front step so she can look indoors at Ed as well, wonders what Helen has done to make her eldest son so oddly patient and tolerant.
"Bring me my prettiest dress," says Susan in her little voice (unlike Peter, who rarely talked even at four, she has the largest vocabulary of any child her age Mrs. Doyle has seen.)
Peter bows clumsily and bounds off towards the edge of the yard, only to stop abruptly and give an excited cry:
"Su, Su!" he calls. She looks as exasperated a four-year-old can, but trots over to stand where he is standing, watching the black automobile pull up. The passenger door opens, and Helen steps out, looking tired but very, very pleased, and the bundle in her arms is squealing away happily. Frank comes around the other side of the car, placing a hand on her shoulder and smiling proudly.
"We're home," he tells Peter and Susan, who both nod.
Peter, looking hopeful, holds out his arms. Helen and Frank share a look before Helen bends down and very carefully place the new baby into their eldest son's care. He holds her tightly, close to his chest, looking down at her rosy little cheeks, her broad, toothless smile, her flailing limbs. Peter smiles to himself.
"Her name is Lucy," says Frank proudly. Susan nudges Peter to one side so she can get a good look, and her stiff expression melts off her face instantly. She coos, and reaches over to smooth nonexistent hair away from Lucy's face, and beams at her little sister. Lucy gurgles.
A second later, Edmund trundles across the yard, looking cross. He tries to push Susan out of the way to look at what Peter is holding, but his father reprimands him (and Susan won't budge), so he comes around the other side and stands on his tiptoes. Peter carefully drops to one knee so his brother can see their new sister. Edmund looks, at first, unimpressed, then relents a bit and turns his dark eyes to Peter for guidance.
"Lucy," explains Peter. Then he adds, "Be nice."
All six of them head indoors together.
Late that night, long past his bedtime, he creeps out of his bedroom and slips into his parents' where his old crib has been set up by Mrs. Doyle. His parents are asleep and content, under only the sheets in the hot summer night. He makes his way over to the crib, where Lucy is fast asleep and drooling, then holds onto the railing, looking down at her affectionately. He reaches down and can almost reach her hand, but not quite; to his surprise, she moves it in her sleep so that she is grasping two of his fingers surprisingly firmly.
"I'm going to keep you safe," he vows solemnly. Lucy burbles unquestioningly.
Peter sleeps, but not after checking on Susan across the hall and Edmund in the bed next to his own.
Ten-year-old Peter hugs his schoolbooks to his chest and runs through the crowded hallway, making the other boys glare and yell when he knocks them aside with his shoulders. He is a head taller than most of them, and when the bullies see him coming, they curse and disappear into the mob of students, leaving their victim sprawled on the ground, sniffling and gathering his scattered school things.
"Edmund," says Peter breathlessly, dropping his own things onto the ground and kneeling before reaching for one of the bitten pencils. His brother snatches it from him and glares, sweeping one arm around to move everything from Peter's reach.
"Go away," Edmund hisses. He shoves things into his knapsack angrily, his dark eyes boring holes in the floor as he kneels on the hard wood. "I can take care of myself."
"I'm sorry, Ed, I tried to get here faster but…"
Peter blinks, taken aback, one hand freezing on its way to Edmund's shoulder.
"Shut up," Ed spits. He forces the last of his books into his bag and gets to his feet. His skinny knees are bruised but it is clear his pride is hurting far worse, and the burning hatred in his eyes testifies to this. Peter rises shakily to his feet, looking down at the little brother he loves so much, and then Ed shoves past him and takes off down the hallway. The elder can just barely make out the sound of his sobbing before he is gone.
Peter picks up his books and looks at the door over the heads of his classmates. It is Lucy who comforts him later, sitting beside him on his bed and making soothing noises as he doesn't cry.
Twelve-year-old Peter sits outside on the porch with his shirt untucked and his hair mussed by the spring breeze. Susan is reading a book on the bench-swing, her bare feet dangling off the side. Lucy is making irregular chains out of the flowery weeds that have sprung up, and Edmund has the new tin-soldier set he got for Christmas out, making them kill each other one by one until the grass is red with imaginary blood.
"Peter," says Lucy, grown tired with her dandelion-chains.
He lifts his head from his knees and acknowledges her with his eyes.
"Let's play horses," she says. He is halfway to his feet, ready to comply, when Susan speaks without looking up from her book.
"I think Peter's a little old for that game," she tells Lucy. He looks over at her in confusion.
"No I'm not," he says. "Come on, Lucy, I'll play."
"No," says Susan. She looks up this time, fixing him with a look that is far too old for her ten years. "You're too old. You can't play pretend anymore."
"Now look here," Peter begins with a touch of irritation. "Don't you go telling me what I am too old to do, Su. I want to play with Lu. Don't be so stuffy."
"Grow up, Peter!" says Susan angrily, slamming her book shut and standing up. She huffs and storms inside, shutting the screen door with a loud bang. Lucy and Edmund are wide-eyed.
Peter plays the game anyway, but it is ruined for him.
Fourteen-year-old Peter stands at a busy train station, surrounded by goodbyes. His suitcase is resting by his feet, and there is a tag with his name and a destination on it clipped to his overcoat. His mother is saying goodbye to Edmund, who he has a harder and harder time getting along with. When she has given up on giving him a real kiss, she straightens out and turns to Peter.
"Promise me you'll look after the others?" she whispers, not trusting herself to speak any louder. He swallows hard and accepts the embrace she gives him, holding her close and wondering if – when – he'll see her again.
will, Mum," he says. Always.
Fourteen-year-old Peter feels much too young, feels the panic bubbling up in his armour, shaking the arm he uses to hold his sword aloft. He has promised Aslan this much, but his promises, how can anyone trust them anymore? Where was he when Edmund slipped away, when he was bound and beaten and abused by the fearsome white enchantress? Where was he when his sisters beheld that which girls of their age should never see? He promised to protect them; he failed. He cannot lead an army. And yet he must.
feels it the instant the sword breaks through his brother's skin.
He feels the sky shatter above him, feels the pieces come and crush
his fragile promises, feels the impossible finality of Edmund's
death wash over him, feels a scream erupt from his mouth but can't
hear anything except his failure, ringing deafeningly in his ears.
He wonders what sick God thrust this responsibility on him, because
he promised, he promised promised promised, but who
could keep this promise, who could ever do what he has to do? He
wants to die, and yet he has to live. But Edmund, Edmund…
Late that night, when the Narnian moon has flooded his tent with milky white light, he is awake. His mind is too cluttered, too filled with frayed promises and memories of miracles, too full for him to sleep. He hugs his knees to his chest and allows himself to cry quietly, feeling useless and overwhelmed and wondering how his family can bear to look at him. The tears slide off his cheeks and paint little dark spots on his nightclothes. And then, the flap is lifted.
Lucy slides into the sleeping roll next to him, and he tries to stop crying but he can't. He doesn't feel worthy of the arms she puts around his shoulders, or the calming words she murmurs. He is afraid she will wake Edmund, who is sleeping just a few feet away, exhausted after his brush with death, and he does not want his younger brother to see him weak. Actually, he doesn't want anyone to see him weak, but Lucy…well, Lucy understands.
It is only a few minutes before Edmund stirs. His lashes lift off his cheeks, and his long, skinny limbs under his blankets before his mournful gaze settles upon his older brother, who has turned his face away in the hopes of hiding the evidence of his brokenness. Edmund, though, is no fool, and he hauls himself perpendicular and, still wrapped in his blanket, scoots over next to Peter (Lucy moves out of the way with a small smile).
"Hey," he says softly. Peter buries his face in his knees, shoulders taut.
Su comes in, then, in search of Lu, but when she sees her younger siblings sitting there around a Peter who is not all right for the first time she can remember, she immediately sweeps over and kneels by him, placing a hand on his back and rubbing gently.
"What's wrong?" she coaxes. Lu cuddles up to his side. Edmund places a hand on his arm.
"I'm sorry," he finally manages to choke out.
"It wasn't your fault," says Edmund flatly. Peter shakes his head, still hiding his face. He can't say any more.
"You've nothing to be sorry about," says Susan. Peter cries harder.
"We love you," Lucy says sincerely. Peter shakily lifts his head up and looks around at them in the moonlight. His siblings, his family, his loved ones – his promises. His eyes are watery and his cheeks are shining with tears, which he allows them to see now for the first time, and he finds that he sees in their eyes not disgust or disappointment but trust.
It is time to make a vow he can keep.
"I love you too," he manages, though it is painful for him to say, and he has never been good with words. "I promise."