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Author's Note: :long sigh: Lo and behold, it's finished! :grins: And boy, was this a difficult chapter to get out. I went through at least three versions of this before I settled on one I liked. I hope you approve; thank you for sticking with me!
Summary: This, this was the hardest part about being a younger brother, the worst part about being the younger king…(Moviebased)
Memories/Personal Thoughts (Italics)
By Sentimental Star
Epilogue: Learning What Matters
(In England a Day Later, After Returning from Narnia)
I glance up as Peter enters our train compartment and slides the door shut behind him, sinking into the seat across from me with a deep sigh as the train begins to move.
"The girls all set?" I ask, giving him a pointed look when he stretches his too-long legs in-between my own.
He just smirks warmly at me before settling his feet in my lap and crossing his ankles.
I make some pretense of scowling at him, before lightly shoving them off and onto the seat beside me. "Well?"
He takes in a deep breath and lets it out, visibly relaxing. "They got off all right." He looks up at me with another smirk. "We're also under strict orders to write them as soon as we arrive and can get our hands on some parchment and ink."
I roll my eyes fondly. "I don't think they need to worry."
I miss them already.
Peter's smirk mellows into a sad smile of his own as he follows my line of thinking. "I know what you mean. Su practically had to pry Lucy off me at the station when I said good-bye. Thank you for that, by the way…I needed some time to talk with them."
I smile briefly at him, before looking down to fiddle with his shoelaces. I bid the girls good-bye just before they left the compartment, and let Peter walk them to the door of the train, hoping that he'd be able to make amends (and reassure them at the same time) as easily as he had with me last night.
It seems to have worked out extraordinarily well, given his description of what happened with Lu.
Thinking of last night reminds me of this morning, and I frown a bit, rubbing at his shoes. "I'm sorry you can't come back."
As he often does, he knows exactly what I mean. "It's not your fault, Ed. It was no one's fault, really. Aslan even said so himself. Su and I…we've learned all we can from Narnia. I think I knew that, actually…deep down, I mean. Did you know, when I first realized where we were…I was disappointed, Ed."
Startled, I raise my head. "Disappointed? Peter…?"
He looks vaguely disturbed. "It was so different from what I remembered. It took me a while to understand that even though it was different, even though it was savage, dark, and wild, it was still Narnia, and I still loved her, just same as I always had, even if it didn't feel like home anymore. And I think…I think that's partially why I was such an ass."
Unable to help myself, I give a faint snort. "The other part, I'm sure, is your ridiculously overblown sense of guilt. Lion's Mane, Peter! You can no more be held accountable for the crimes of the Telmarines than Caspian can!"
"I know that," he admits softly. "Now."
I smirk lightly at him. "Good. It only took you sixteen years."
He gives me a baffled look. "Sixteen years to what?"
My smirk widens. "To realize that you're not responsible for every little thing that goes wrong. Now you just think you're responsible for half of them."
He gives a good-natured groan, lightly chucking his empty school bag at me. "Oh, shut up, Ed."
Laughing, I dodge it, letting it hit the seat and tumble down to land next to his feet. "Is that any way to treat your favorite brother?"
"Ed, you're my only brother."
I grin. "All the more reason for you to treat me well. There's only so many of me, you know."
Peter musses my hair, smiling in return. "Oh, and I'm sure that's stopped you from being selfless idiot charging in to save a noble idiot, who just happens to be your older brother."
"Of course." I favor him with a tender smirk. "If I didn't, who would?"
He laughs softly, giving my hair one last tousle before dropping his hand. "You're incorrigible, Ed." He responds to my smirk with an affectionate grin of his own, turning rather more serious, "But I know how you are with me…finally. I think it only took me about a year longer than last time, too."
With an embarrassed smile, I lean back into the seat and, after a moment, shut my eyes, releasing a quiet sigh.
"Ed? Are you all right?"
I open my eyes to find him watching me worriedly from where he sits across the compartment, and offer him another tiny smile. "Just tired, Pete. Nothing so bad as what you're thinking."
He grimaces lightly at me, before shaking his head in fond exasperation. "Honestly, Ed, sometimes I think you know me better than I know myself." Scooting closer to the door of the compartment (and knocking his school bag to the floor in the process), he motions to the open cushions beside him. "Why don't you come over here by me? You might be more comfortable that way."
I raise an eyebrow at him, but carefully stand and make my way over, trying not to be toppled by the train car's movement. When I sit beside him, he tugs me down to lie on the seat with my head in his lap.
I hesitate a minute. "What if someone sees us?"
He rolls his eyes, gently pressing me down. I go, albeit reluctantly. "They can stare all they want. If they can't handle it, that's their problem. I, for one, am going to make sure my little brother gets the rest he needs."
When I abruptly squeeze my eyes shut, and roll over to bury my face in his side, I know he's concerned. My voice is muffled when I speak, "It's not going to be the same…Without you there, I mean."
I sense him uncrossing his ankles and returning his feet to the floor with a slight frown. "Ed?" he asks, leaning over me and placing a warm hand on my forehead.
"In Narnia," I clarify quietly.
He utters a soft "ah," before I feel him gently brush my chin with his fingers, redirecting my gaze up to his. He smiles when I open my eyes. "I'm sure you'll be fine."
I snort faintly. "Maybe. But I never really…realized how much I relied on you being there…"
Oh, Aslan, this is awkward.
"We've neither of us been so far from each other before. I mean, yes, there was Tashbaan when you were off fighting the Giants in the North, and I've been in Archenland while you were at Cair, but--"
He cuts me off with a slightly thick chuckle. "In other words, you're going to miss me."
"Like the other half of my soul, Peter."
As soon as those words leave my mouth, I blanch, feeling heat creep up on my cheeks. "I mean…!"
By the Lion…did I actually say that?! Not that it isn't true, but still…!
I can hear Peter's breathing hitch.
Oh…oh, bother. Now I have to say something.
Barely biting back a groan, I respond, "You heard me."
It's why I was so terrified during the single combat, and why I had been so certain that he was dead when I woke from my nightmare. It's why he was the only one who could snap me out of it and why I had gone to Lu hours before anything else, and told her my suspicions about Miraz's "honor"—making it clear that I didn't expect to live through the day, if that were the case.
In hindsight, I really shouldn't have told her something like that. She knew it, of course; I'd told her something almost exactly similar each time I rode into battle at Peter's side, but to make her promise not to tell anyone, and especially not Peter…
I would have broken more than my brother's heart, if that came to pass.
I grimace and shut my eyes. I'll really need to apologize in that letter, I think.
Which means Susan will know, and if Susan knows…
She'll tell Peter!
Really not a good idea. Peter has the worst sort of guilt complex. He might be getting better, but if he finds out I've gone into battle each time with him expecting to die…he'll kill himself over it, and he's already feeling guilty enough as it is.
Oh, hang it all…why do I have to love him so much?
I take in a deep breath and open my eyes to gaze up at him. He looks completely stunned.
Immediately, I blush and avert my eyes.
Bother. I don't think there's a way out of this. I have to explain…and he deserves to hear it from me. I probably should have told him in the first place, really.
With a sigh, I finally speak up, rubbing at my neck, "Pete, listen…I-I've never before really seen myself as anything other than a judge or…or a protector. You've always taken such risks, because you were always so noble and so brave and I…I mean, yes, I protected the girls, probably almost as fiercely as I protected you, but…but…"
All heroes fall. And I don't want to lose you.
I swallow a few times, trying to force back the steadily rising lump in my throat. I've never told him anything like this before…and it's so difficult. It feels like I'm saying good-bye…and I hate that. This is an entirely new meaning of "letting go," and I know it will be just as hard to do this as it was to leave him behind, wounded, on a battlefield during a charge, or to retreat without him, when the safety and well-being of our subjects was far more important than the life of Narnia's High King.
At least this time I'll know he's alive.
But it still feels like a jagged dagger is being shoved into my heart and then brutally twisted, before being yanked out. Repeatedly.
"Edmund?" my brother's voice is tight.
I clench my eyes shut. "Pete?"
When Peter's hand suddenly curls around my neck, I snap my eyes open to find him directly above me, his own eyes brimming with tears.
"Sorry," I whisper, brushing at a few which have started to trickle down his cheeks.
He just shakes his head, several more tears slipping down to join the ones that have already fallen, and leans down to press his face into my hair. It is several minutes before he even begins to speak, voice thick and muffled, "You really have always had my back, haven't you? And I…" His voice cracks. I wince. "Oh, Aslan, Ed, what have I done to deserve you?"
My breath catches in my throat, and I slip my hand up to cradle his neck. How can he even ask something like that? Hearing him say it…it hurts.
Peter, you idiot…
There is only one thing I can think to say, if I can even manage it: lifting his head away from my neck, gently grasping his chin and looking him straight in the eye, I reply, as firmly as I can, "You have loved me."
Is it any wonder, then, that I love you?