Title: These Things That Make Us Men
Disclaimer: The enchanted world of Narnia and all the creatures in it belong to C.S. Lewis; I own nothing of it.
Summary: Edmund knows how Peter feels. Set during 'Prince Caspian;' Movieverse.
A/N: Lo and behold, I'm writing Narnia fic again. Who'd have thought? This was just a small idea that struck me after seeing the film version of 'Prince Caspain' and consequently returning to the books. Kind of experimental in style for me, so please do let me know what you think of it. I thrive on feedback :) Enjoy!
"I understand, you know."
The tangible ether of the air around them, damp and heavy and scented unbearably of wet, organic earth, rippled with the force of Edmund's words against the silence. Peter, seated with his head tilted awkwardly against the soft, pastel-like smears of drawings on the walls, tensed in response, but made no reply.
And yet, Edmund wasn't daunted – fearsome as his brother could be when in one of his notorious moods, he'd faced much worse. "I know what it feels like," he pressed on, his voice closer now in the haze of Peter's mind, though the elder boy hadn't felt any shift, any note of his movement. Agitated, he spun on his younger sibling, eyes hard and burning with an icy sort of fire that hadn't always been there, and hadn't ever grown to suit him.
"What what feels like?" he hissed, glaring sideways over at Edmund, who was watching the ceiling intently, studying every crevice in the rock, every soft spot of soil that ebbed through the cracks. With a sigh, Edmund slid off the small outcropping of stone he'd balanced himself on, the rough drag of his legs against the slab echoing harsh in Peter's ears; the soft, clapping scuffle of his hands against each other as he brushed the dirt and soggy debris from his palms exploding like a bomb through the utter still.
With a grand gesture of his hands as he wandered away from Peter and closer to the opposite wall, Edmund attempted to explain. "This." He cocked his head towards the entrance to the ungrounded hold with a deliberate jerk. "Him." Turning again to face his brother, he waited until Peter's eyes rose to meet his own in curiosity before he drove his point home. "You." He bent distractedly as his brother scowled, picking up a small pebble between his thumb and forefinger, flinging it back to the ground before tagging on, his voice softer but just as sure: "You think you're being replaced."
Peter felt a rush of many things as the words processed in his brain: indignation, anger, embarrassment, irritation, defensiveness, and above all these, the sheer and piercing sensation of being completely and utterly called out on the truth. "I what?" He spluttered vacantly, face pale aside from the feverish flush of his cheeks, blessedly masked by the shadow.
He could hear more vividly than he could see Edmund's sneer in response, and cringed against the onslaught of whatever it was that was dripping, positively drenching his words – so close to disappointment, but only just missing the mark. "Come off it. You do. It's obvious." And Peter would have argued had it thought it would be of any use. It wasn't obvious, and if it was, it could have feasibly been much more so, objectively speaking. Yet this was Edmund – it was obvious to him, and that usually meant it was barely discernable to the rest of the world, besides the fact that Peter may or may not have been indulging his own inclinations towards denial in this particular situation. The tightening of his throat, his jaw, and the straighter alignment of his vertebrae set him up for a glorious disputation, and yet with Edmund's next words, he was visibly and skillfully deflated. "You work yourself up into a temper every time he so much as looks at you funny," and with an offhand flick of Edmund's wrist in dismissal, Peter was sunk. Check and mate, his entire argument was derailed and rendered void. He fought the urge to kick the ground in frustration with a hard bite to his tongue for distraction.
He jumped a bit, digging his teeth painfully into the flesh of his tastebuds and drawing a pinprick of blood from the bite as he started when he felt his brother's breath against his ear; staring dumbly to his front, he could not fathom how Edmund had appeared at his side and escaped his notice, kneeling next to him on the dark and solid ground. "But you're wrong, Peter," his brother spoke gently, the tone of his voice from a future in their past, so soothing, so selfless. "You're not being replaced." The hand on Peter's shoulder radiated warmth, and somehow steadied the anxious trembling of his heart as he breathed deep, smelling the salt and mist that was Edmund so close, reassuring and present, constant.
Deft fingers rubbed strengthening circles on his arm, and Peter was reminded of days gone by, when his muscles were lean and battled-hardened, when his brother's hands were callused from long hours gripping tight to his sword, when the same pattern of attention to his biceps was all that got him through the long and arduous nights of war, all that grounded him and kept him focused, kept him sane. "He's not half the man you are," Edmund's words, the individual syllables, they resonated – they caught in Peter's throat and made him feel… still. Peaceful. Somehow, they alone settled him, froze the condensation on his lips in the humid cavern, robbed his lungs of their breath until he could only blink, his pulse and the ethereal echo of it in his ears the only sound that was real to him, the only thing that existed aside from Edmund's touch and Edmund's voice; aside from Edmund. "I don't reckon he's even a quarter."
And really, that helped. The coil of jealousy, inadequacy, that had wound tight around his stomach eased and made everything lighter, freer – he was in control now, and the scowl that bent his lips was beginning to fade. "Remember when we were little?" Edmund cut through the quiet once more, his voice less of an intrusion and more like a song now; now that Peter wasn't hurting so much, wasn't so sore and angry, so tense and unsure. "We were close, yeah?"
With a soft smile at nothing, resisting the urge to look over at his grown brother for fear of breaking the spell – ruining the magic – Peter remembered back to when Edmund was born. It remained one of his earliest recollections, the sight of his baby brother – so sweet and small and innocent and fragile and so desperately in need of protection – and Peter had taken that need to heart from the very beginning, never once looking back and standing watch faithfully, with no regrets. "I remember."
"Remember when we started to drift apart?"
The coil in his stomach clenched immediately, piercing upwards in a spear of hot, hard metal that drew blood as it penetrated through his chest, the sudden spark of pain that the question elicited hitting him full force. Peter didn't like remembering that; in fact, Peter did his best to pretend that it didn't exist. In Peter's mind, his life began at the Battle of Beruna, when a brother he loved made the ultimate (though thankfully not permanent) sacrifice for him, and him alone; when that brother he loved became the friend he cherished and the confidant he could not manage without. Peter was born in Narnia, and his world before that was little more than the shadow of a memory, the remnant of a bittersweet nightmare. "Yes."
A soft squeeze on his elbow, followed by Edmund's light and thin arm snaking behind his neck to rest on the opposite shoulder with a comforting sort of weight helped ease Peter's sudden discomfort. "Do you remember why?"
Peter knew he didn't remember, because in all honesty he'd never known. It had been one of the great mysteries of his childhood – why his beloved little brother, his cohort and companion, had suddenly grown to dismiss him like so much rubbish; it had hurt more than Peter liked to admit, and more than he cared to recall.
Edmund rightfully took his silence as permission to continue. "It was that friend of yours, Jamie something-or-other." A strange, bespectacled face swam in Peter's mind, the details hazy but for the orange hair and the thick frames obscuring his eyes. Even Peter couldn't remember his surname. "You were always out building forts or playing bandits with him." Peter remembered starkly that Edmund had always been more fun in that game, because he was faster, more agile. "Always taking him to our secret places in the woods, always over eating lunch at his." Only because Jamie's mum always made watercress sandwiches, and Peter's mum didn't much care for watercress. "He took you away from me, and I was angry. It hurt, I think, more than anything." Peter didn't know if it was just him, or if Edmund's voice was slower, slurred by something deeper than the words; if his grip on the sphere of Peter's shoulder had really tightened, or if he's only just imagined it. "And so, when you were home, I wanted to hurt you back. You'd replaced me, you'd left me – you didn't need me anymore, and I wanted nothing more than to show you that I didn't need you, either."
And it made sense, suddenly. Every angry, frustrated, hurtful word to leave Edmund's mouth in a tizzy of fury and rage, every glance that seared and every huff that made Peter feel distinctly as if he'd failed. And it burned hot in his gut, just then, to know that it really had been his fault, inadvertently or no; that every niggling fear that he'd been rightfully to blame for his brother's scorn had been true after all.
"It was until here, till we came here, that I understood everything. That it all fell into place," Edmund added softly, the way his head fell onto Peter's shoulder, the way his chest rose and fell against Peter's side combining in a promise to make things right, to ease away the guilt.
"You didn't replace me," Edmund declared simply, moving his left arm to encircle Peter in a loose embrace. "You didn't forget me. You didn't stop needing me, and you didn't stop loving me." Pressing his nose affectionately into the line of Peter's neck, which he knew from memory, from experience, would draw the boundary of his beard one day, he softened slightly, leaning more dependently onto Peter's sure and steady form. "I was selfish, and blind, and too young to know any better – foolish to a fault and cowardly to boot," Edmund laughed self-deprecatingly at this, and Peter felt a surge of protectiveness overwhelm him – he knew his brother had never gotten over it, over that part of his past. In Narnia, at least, it had served as a reminder, a benchmark to work away from, a sort of warning against too desperate a misstep from the path before him. Since they'd returned to England and lost more than just their crowns, however, Edmund seemed to bear the weight of things past with the same presence of mind, but without the distance that wisdom had eventually afforded him. It hurt him, desperately, and thus hurt Peter even more. "I didn't notice that every time I despised you, every time I brushed you aside in anger, I was only proving myself wrong. You did care, you did want me. You hadn't replaced me at all."
Turning in Edmund's embrace, causing him to withdraw his hold, Peter wrapped his own arms around his brother, drawing him close and relishing the feel of Edmund's arms returning to his shoulders. "I couldn't replace you, Ed," Peter whispered, crushing the younger boy's head into the hollow of his throat, letting their proximity – the familiarity, the intrinsic love that emanated between them – slowly melt away his insecurities, his doubts and inner turmoil; slowly bringing him back to the man he used to be, who this place had shaped and sculpted – a man, a brother who they could all be proud of; who Edmund could be proud of.
"And we couldn't replace you," Edmund spoke in earnest against Peter's throat, and Peter felt the words acutely; as if, spoken inadvertently into the pulse of his Adam's apple, he couldn't deny them. "Narnia couldn't replace you, Peter. Not ever. You, Peter the Magnificent, are one of a kind." Drawing back, he shook Peter by the shoulder slightly for emphasis, a tiny smile bowing his lips hopefully.
"But there is no endless winter to stave off, no teeming army of willing, magical beings to rush into battle with this time," Edmund conceded gently, as if explaining death to a small child, trying to keep the icicles of despair from overcoming their wise, watery eyes. "This world has changed, and we've had our turn to save it. Now it's his."
And Peter couldn't argue with that, not when it was so plain, so clearly stated and so obviously true. This was not their Narnia. This was a Narnia of oppression and segregation, of inequality and domination and war and hatred and a thousand other things that simply weren't Narnia, and never had been. And it hurt, it stung and burned and cut like a hot knife or the sharp tip of a sword against an open wound; and Peter couldn't stop it. With a slow, reluctant nod, Peter met Edmund's smile with a melancholy grin of his own, comprehending now better than he did before – understanding himself better than he did before. "When'd you get to be so wise, huh?" he asked with a choked sort of chuckle, nudging Edmund in the arm playfully in acknowledgement, in resignation.
"Oh, I don't know," Edmund smirked, though his eyes sparkled brilliantly in the soft lighting around them. "Somewhere over the past fifteen years or so, I suspect. Had a bit more than my fair share of growing up to do since then."
There was finality in the way that he spoke, and Peter knew even before Edmund rose on long, lanky legs and brushed himself off that they were done. Not yet ready to follow, needing just a few more moments of quiet, time to collect himself and all that he'd lost and gained, he called after his brother in earnest; "Thanks, Ed."
The small, shyish grin he received in return as Edmund ducked back through the hollowed-out channels that would lead him back to the light wasn't quite a 'you're welcome,' but Peter knew that it was all he was going to get.