A/N: Thanks to everyone who's been waiting patiently for this next chapter! My beta was sick, but she still came through and was absolutely amazing. I hope this chapter was worth the wait! I also want to thank every one of you who reviewed - I was so floored by the amount of reviews, seriously. They were all so insightful and awesome. I love you guys. :)
Chapter Seven - Never Get Sick
"Oh, what a fool I am! An utter fool!"
"Lucy," says Susan weakly, "this isn't helping."
"I know," Lucy moans. "But I am so sorry. You told me that you weren't feeling well – "
Susan clutches her chest, resting a hand over her heart. How rapidly it's beating, as if it is ready to jump out of her body! She opens her mouth to tell Lucy; a wave of nausea rolls over her, preventing her.
Lucy can't stop talking. "You told me, Su, you told me. But I brought you out here anyway. I so wanted to go on an adventure! You know, the boys go on adventures all the time, but we don't. I just…I don't even really know where we are - this is Edmund's territory. Oh, I suppose I am really bad at this. Peter's right, I can't carry a map in my head. I do wish we brought horses. Now I don't know what to do."
Susan wants to calm Lucy, who is pacing frantically, but she can't. Between the nausea and the horrible pain in her abdomen, she can't really do anything but groan and lean on the tree behind her.
"Susan," says Lucy worriedly, kneeling next to her on the forest's floor. "Do you need my cordial?"
Susan mutters that the cordial is to be used for extreme cases, but she is quite sure her words do not come out coherently. Her words are useless anyway, because Lucy has already taken the cordial from her belt. She unscrews the top and gives Susan a look, which Susan understands perfectly; she obliges, opening her mouth.
The drop of fireflower juice hits her tongue and she swallows. The liquid blisters the roof of her mouth. Susan grimaces, hating the sensation. Never before has she had to use the cordial, but she never imagined it would burn. Still, she knows the healing effect will come over her soon, and that is all she cares about. Only, it doesn't. Another ray of pain shoots through her, and she has to bend over, her face only inches above the ground, in order to stop it.
"Oh, Aslan!" cries Lucy. "Why isn't it working?"
Susan tries to look into her sister's face, but her vision is blurry. With as much energy as she can muster, she moves a hand over the ground, touching the leaves, until she finds it, feels the smooth, cool ivory on her fingertips. "Lu," she rasps.
Lucy takes the horn from her and blows. It rings clear and true throughout the forest, and the trees sway from the severity of its sound. "Help is coming, Su," whispers Lucy, touching her face, kissing her cheeks. "Please hold on."
Nausea surges through Susan again, this time accompanied by an even sharper pain in her abdomen. She breathes heavily, looking into Lucy's eyes to find comfort, and manages a tiny smile.
Ages seem to pass, and then suddenly Lucy squeezes her hands tightly. "Do you hear that Susan? Hooves."
Susan nods, and then all goes black.
When Susan wakes, the darkness of the forest is gone and the sun is hot against her face. The sound of whinnying horses and boots on the ground tells her that she's home – at Cair Paravel. She's cradled in someone's arms, and instantly, she knows they are Peter's. His scent, his movement up the stone steps of the castle, the way he holds her – tightly, as if she's about to break – all give him away.
"Fetch a doctor," he barks at someone.
That someone is Oreius. "A human doctor, my Lord?"
"Anyone with medical experience will do."
Susan tries to open her eyes, but she is unable. Panic starts to rise in her. Sometimes it is easy to forget that she and her siblings are the only humans in Narnia. There are no doctors here that are familiar with the anatomy of humans.
"Peter, is she all right?" says a tearful voice, Lucy's voice.
"I told her not to leave the castle today," he says, frustrated, as they ascend a staircase. "She didn't eat breakfast, said she was ill, so I told her to rest. And what does she do? She goes gallivanting through the forest."
They turn a corner, and Susan feels horribly guilty.
"It was my fault," says Lucy. "I made her go with me."
"Peter, I'm sorry - "
"You should be."
A door opens and Susan recognizes the walls of her bedroom, the vanity in the corner. Within seconds, she can feel familiar silk sheets against her back, a soft pillow beneath her head. It feels like heaven until another sharp pain moves through her abdomen.
Peter rounds on Lucy. "How could you have been so stupid?"
"Peter - " Edmund interrupts.
But Peter ignores him. "Even if Susan hadn't fallen ill, why would you think it wise to go off into the forest alone, without an escort? Especially in these times… you know the dangers we face with the Giants."
"I didn't think we needed an escort. We were just exploring - "
"You're a queen, Lucy! Of course you need an escort!"
Susan wishes she could place a hand on his shoulder, to ease the anger and worry teeming from him. She cannot remember a single time Peter had ever raised his voice to Lucy, let alone yelled at her, and hearing it now only makes her feel worse.
"You're not a little girl anymore, Lucy," he says, this time in a low voice, "but I swear, sometimes you act as foolish as a five-year-old."
"Peter, that's enough," says Edmund, his tone even quieter, but just as threatening. "I understand that you're upset, but you don't need to lash out at Lucy."
Another person enters the room, his footsteps sure and swift, hooves clicking against the floor.
"How may I be of assistance?" he greets.
"Mr. Tumnus!" Lucy exclaims. "My dear faun, you have medical experience?"
"Very little, but I hope I can help."
Susan is not comforted by the nervousness in the faun's voice. He breathes heavily as he leans over her. "Queen Susan," he says firmly, patting her cheeks. "Queen Susan, are you able to hear me? Open your eyes, Majesty."
Susan braces herself, the ache behind her eyelids unbearable. Slowly, she opens them; she can hear Lucy sigh with relief.
"Good," says Tumnus. "Now, what are you feeling? Are you in pain?"
She nods, indicating her abdomen. He feels around the area, causing her to shriek with pain and Edmund to wince and look away.
Lucy speaks shakily, "She didn't eat this morning… "
"She barely ate yesterday," adds Peter, his face white. Susan tilts her head in his direction and gives him a tiny smile, which he doesn't return.
"She was complaining of nausea earlier. Please, what is wrong with her?" Lucy's face is panicked, her brown eyes glittering with tears. "Do you know why my cordial isn't working?"
"Perhaps it is something that can't be healed," says Tumnus. "The cordial is used mainly for surface injuries, isn't it? Sword wounds and the like? I think this is more serious – internal, maybe something in the bloodstream or an organ."
Tumnus looks back at Susan, his hands still pressed against her, his face grave. Susan wishes he would move away his hands, the sensation is so harsh.
"Has she been poisoned?" asks Lucy.
"Is she pregnant?"
Edmund looks at Susan. "Well, are you?"
Susan's response is a disproving glance thrown in Edmund's direction. Then she turns her attention back to Tumnus.
"What is it?" she questions weakly.
Tumnus looks at her anxiously. "I honestly do not know. Perhaps Lucy is right, but I can't really be certain. I don't have – my only knowledge of human medicine is what I've read in fairy tales and fables."
Before Susan can stop them, tears trail down her face. The terror rises through her, and she begins to wrack with sobs. Soon, Peter and Edmund are on either side of her, the former holding her hand, the latter stroking her hair. Lucy climbs into the bed with her, wiping away her tears.
"Susan," says Edmund, as she cries. "You have to calm down, you'll only make it worse."
"Don't fret, Su," says Lucy, giving her a teary smile. "You're going to be okay. By the Lion, you'll make it through."
Susan can remember a time, very long ago, when her nights were sleepless. She worried about things like marks in school and Edmund's too-small trousers; cried over her father being sent off to War and the way her mother shut down after he left. Nightmares plagued her sleep, horrible nightmares of those she loved in peril.
When she was little, she'd crawl into her mother and father's bed, hoping her parents would make the nightmares go away. When she had grown a little, she realized that her parents couldn't, and that's when she went to Peter. Because her big brother, for some reason, was always able to chase away her fears.
Then, she came to Narnia, and worries, tears, and nightmares came less often. She was finally able to sleep – to rest.
Now, she dreams of herself, her impending death and the reactions of her siblings. She dreams of a mother and father she had forgotten years ago. Her father features strongly in her dreams, a man with Lucy's hair and Edmund's eyes, who taught her to read books and develop her mind; who sometimes brushed her hair and told her stories about his patients.
Patients…what are patients? What was his job? She wonders, teetering between consciousness and unconsciousness. She struggles to recall, tries to force her dreams to remember, and then suddenly she can see…
She's waiting, sitting on a stool with her back straight the way her mother taught her. The room is white and smells strongly of alcohol. And then she sees her father, wearing a white coat, a metal thing hanging round his neck – a stethoscope, Peter had called it. She'd asked him what that meant, what a stethoscope did; he had shrugged and told her to look it up in the dictionary.
Peter enters the room now, rubbing his chin in a very adult-like way. "Father's coming," he says nervously.
She holds out a hand to him, and he takes it. She hops down from the stool and releases her grip. Tears are forming in his eyes.
"Oh, Petey," she says, "please don't cry. Father will make him okay, I know it."
Peter wipes his eyes, nodding. Susan pats his shoulder, and indicates the stool. "Come on," she encourages. When he's seated, she spins the stool round and round, and finally elicits a giggle from him.
After a few moments, the door opens. "What is it, Pete? Su? Where's your mum?"
Peter suddenly jumps down from the stool, his smile gone. "Father, she says come quickly. It's Edmund."
"He's ill. Very ill."
Her dream changes; it's a few days later, and Edmund has been quarantined in the upstairs guest room. Father is there with him, sending messages out to Mother every hour about Edmund's progress, if he needs a cloth or water or food. Lucy, who had been crying nonstop, has finally cried herself to sleep, clutching the teddy bear Edmund gave her when she was two. Mother picks Lucy up from her curled spot on the floor, taking her to bed.
On the couch, Susan picks at the threads of her pleated skirt, her hair falling into her eyes. She glances at Peter, who's barely spoken a word since Edmund fell ill. He looks so much older than his eight years, and as he stares into the fireplace, she stares at him.
He turns to her, glassy eyed, and then is next to her on the couch. Their knees touch, but he doesn't look at her. She keeps her gaze on him, though, and places her hand on top of his. Tears fall down his cheeks, and it's the first time she's ever seen him really cry. It scares her, but then she remembers all the time she's cried to him and thinks that it's not too bad after all.
"Susan?" he asks.
The grandfather clock ticks. "Yes?" she whispers.
And though his face looks so old, he sounds like such a little boy when he says, "Never get sick. Never get sick."
When Susan wakes, she notices that she's no longer lying on top of her sheets and blankets, but underneath them. She is so tightly tucked in that a brief image of a moth in a cocoon springs to her mind.
Her shoes are gone, she notices. She notices, too, that she's been undressed; her day dress is gone, replaced with sleepwear. Then, the garish voices of her siblings reach her, and she wonders how long they have stayed with her, and how long she's been asleep.
Lucy's voice is almost cold. "Nothing else is working. We must go to Aslan."
"And just leave her here? Certainly not."
"Peter, we need to go. Something's wrong with her and the cordial's not helping. No one here knows what's the matter."
"Did you not say, three minutes ago, that you believe it to be appendicitis?"
"I said 'I think', but I could be wrong. Even so, what do you expect to do about it? Operate on her yourself? I hope not, for her sake. Father was the doctor, Peter, not you. You can't do everything."
"Lucy - "
"I've had enough of this," enters Edmund's voice. Susan can imagine him standing between Peter and Lucy, glaring at them. "The two of you are driving me mad, and none of this is helping Susan."
"What do we do?" says Lucy, her voice growing timid.
"We find Aslan."
"Edmund, I'm not leaving Susan - "
"Peter, shut up," says Edmund, and though his voice is firm, it is not harsh. "You can stay here with Susan. Lucy and I will go to Aslan."
Susan forces her eyes open, sees Peter and Edmund staring hardly at one another. Finally, Peter nods his consent and Edmund and Lucy rush out of the room. He stares blankly after them for what seems like ages.
She decides to interrupt his brooding. "I have appendicitis?" she says.
Peter whips around, and sits at the edge of her bed. "Lucy thinks so," he says, sighing. "It's the only thing that makes sense."
"You should apologize to her," says Susan. "This is not her fault."
Peter's face tightens.
"It's not as if Lucy forced me out of Cair Paravel anyway. I went of my own volition. I wanted to. So if you're upset about that, you should be upset with me, not her. I directly disobeyed you."
"Why can't you just do as you're told?" laments Peter. "Just like Edmund, you are… perfectly stubborn."
"Well, if this is appendicitis, it doesn't really matter if I was in the castle, does it? It would have come anyway," she points out.
"Always trying to be logical," mutters Peter, looking away from her.
Susan doesn't respond, just sighs and leans back against the pillows. Peter almost seems upset with her. She can see it in his tense jaw line, his red cheeks, and the way he avoids her eyes. If it were anyone else, Susan would be upset. However, this is Peter, and she can read him extremely well.
Whenever he's in a situation that makes him uncomfortable, he becomes defensive, and his worry can sometimes be mistaken for anger. This is one of those times, and Susan knows what he's feeling, knows how he's suffering. Seeing those he loves in danger, or in pain, is one of his greatest fears.
Most people see Peter as the High King, a man at the head of the kingdom, at the head of his family. Susan knows this is true – to an extent, but she also knows that Peter does nothing on his own. She, Edmund, and Lucy are always there to hold him up. They balance him, and he would fall if they weren't by his side.
Susan winces as the hurt swerves through her once more, and leans over, clutching her abdomen. Peter rests a hand on her shoulder, and uses the other hand to tuck her long hair behind her ears. She breathes through the pain, acutely aware of the tears gathering in the corners of her eyelids and the sweat gliding down her skin. When the harsh pangs settle into a strong discomfort, she relaxes somewhat. Peter lets go of her shoulder and reaches for her hand instead. She's almost afraid to glimpse his expression, but she can't stop herself.
His face is tense and desperate, and Susan can see the tears beginning to form in his wide, terrified eyes. Her heart aches for him and she wants to tell him not to cry, but she can't find her voice.
"I don't know what to do," he admits softly. "I don't know… I've always been the one to help you, Su, but I don't know what do. Not this time."
Susan feels her own tears pricking her eyes, and wonders why everyone believes she is the one with the tender heart. That has always been Peter, at least in her eyes. He'd do anything for her, she knows, and the fact that he's shattered over not being able to do anything right now is enough to break her.
"Just you being here is enough," she murmurs. "You being there was always enough."
"You got sick," he sighs. "Why'd you have to get sick?"
She wants to thread her fingers through his hair comfortingly, to shush him and say, 'Everything will be all right.' But she doesn't know if those words are appropriate for right now, if they are what he needs to hear. She's never been good with those words – Peter's always been the one able to convince her of them.
So she reaches out, wipes the tears from his eyes, and says nothing.
Hours pass and the night comes, and still Edmund and Lucy have not returned. Peter has taken to pacing around the room and Susan drifts back and forth between consciousnesses. A fever has taken hold of her, and the pain is unbearable now.
"Susan, keep holding on," says Peter, his breath in her ear. Her only response is a loud groan, as he presses a cool cloth to her head, and moves his hands downwards.
He presses lightly against her stomach, and she shakes beneath him. "Your stomach is rigid," he informs her. "I think that means your appendix has burst."
Susan is barely able to hear him, but she finds his hands and squeezes tightly. She can feel the emotions emanating from him; his worry, his frustration, his gentleness. All of it comes off him in waves, and it's almost as overwhelming as the jarring pangs that sweep over her.
Someone raps on the door. "Who is it?" calls Peter.
"It is Tumnus. Can I do anything, Sir? How is Queen Susan?"
"She's fine. Just keep watch for my brother and sister. And Aslan," he adds.
Tumnus' hooves fade down the corridor, and Peter half-glares at Susan. "You're not fine. You're going to have an infection. I swear to Aslan, if you die, I will never forgive you."
She smiles – it is something she would say.
More footsteps sound against the marble halls, and soon the door is banged open, and someone breathes haggardly. "Aslan is here," gasps Edmund. "He's here."
Susan's heart lightens considerably, even through the pain. "Bring him here, then," orders Peter.
Another voice joins them. "Aslan says to bring Susan to the throne room. There is going to be an audience – Aslan has sent Tumnus to gather as many Narnians as he can."
Susan opens her eyes, puzzled. Though Edmund's hair is dripping and he's hunched over, short of breath, Lucy stands tall and gazes at Peter directly.
"What?" Peter blurts. "I say, there isn't enough time for all of that."
"Don't you believe Aslan can save Susan?"
"Of course I do, Lu – "
"Then who are you to question Him? It's settled."
She flounces from the room, bristling, and Peter watches her go, mouth agape. Susan inquires of Edmund, "What's wrong with Lucy? Is she quite all right?"
"That's just like you, Su, to be wondering about others when you're in such a state," says Peter, as he grasps her hand and rests it on the back of his neck. She clings to him as he sweeps an arm under her shoulder and the other under her knees. He picks her up swiftly, though the sudden movement causes her even more pain. Still, she worries for Lucy.
"I expect she's upset with me for yelling at her," Peter consoles.
Edmund holds open the door as they leave the room. "Yes, I believe that is part of it," he confirms.
They stand in the center of the throne room, and Susan can't stop herself thinking how hot it is. People crowd the room by the dozens, blocking the breezes that normally drift through the corridors. Peter, still holding her, is closer than ever, and while she doesn't mind too much, his warmth does nothing but add to her discomfort. But as she can't very well stand, and can't lie down on the floor, she doesn't have another choice than to be held by her brother. Her fever is worse than ever, spiked up so high that she's surprised she is even conscious.
They have been standing at the center of attention for ages now, and Susan can tell Peter is quite tired himself. The effort of holding her for such a long amount of time seems to have strained his muscles, for his arms are stiff against her, and his grip on her has loosened, if only a little. Her twisting in agony certainly does not helping him to maintain her weight, but she cannot control it.
Susan, trembling, finds herself remembering random things. The first time she cooked by herself, when Father had left and Mother was shut up in her room. Braiding Lucy's hair before their coronation. The look on Edmund's face after he finally managed to out-duel Peter. Mr. Beaver calling her beautiful, contrasted with a girl at school, Margaret was her name, calling her ugly. Being bitten by her brute of a cousin, Eustace. The day she learned to swim.
The images march around in her mind like in a parade, and Susan wonders if this is what it means to have your life flash before your eyes. And she moans internally that her life is not over, so she must stop remembering, and she tries hard to focus on the present, though everything is blurred. Lucy is in front of her, fanning her face, and she would smile if she could. She tries to focus on the coolness of the air as Lucy wafts it about, the roughness of Peter's tunic against her thin nightgown, and Edmund's voice, soothing and clear among the loud whispers of the Narnians.
And then she shivers, for a presence has entered the room, a presence that makes everything and everyone go still. Susan, her heart calmed, ignores the pain she feels, and focuses solely on him.
He stands in all his glory with Tumnus, who carries a folded mat in his hands. It is no ordinary mat, it must be said, but a velvet, bright red one, with gold trim along the edges. Though Susan would ordinarily be taken with its beauty, she is quite entranced with the Lion at the moment, and there is no room for her to be distracted by anything else.
"Lay out the mat you hold," says the Lion, his voice smooth and strong. Susan shivers again, delighted by the sound of it and what it stirs inside her, and she clutches Peter to her even more tightly.
Tumnus does as he is instructed, laying out the mat before the four thrones, and the Narnians look on in awe and anticipation.
"High King Peter, lay Queen Susan down on the mat."
And though Susan can feel Peter's puzzlement, he does what he is told. The feel of the mat on her back is a comfort, so plush underneath her, and she is able to forget about the great audience watching her, about how her state is rather un-queenly, and the raging pain and the writhing she cannot stop.
"High King Peter, I ask now that you leave, along with you, dear one." The Lion looks straight at Lucy and her chin quivers. "There is to be peace between you."
"But Aslan – "
"Go. Your sister will live." And his words are punctuated with a growl, loving and terrifying all at once, causing Peter to stop speaking.
"Must they leave, Aslan?" says Susan, quaking.
Aslan gives her a fierce look, but Peter kneels down next to her. "We'll be right here, Su. We're still here. I'm with you always, dear sister."
Then he presses a kiss on her forehead, and the crowd of Narnians parts, allowing him through. Lucy follows him.
Aslan roars, which makes the ground vibrate and the thrones shake. He looks upon Susan as the Narnians cry out in jubilation and fear. Their gazes hold for a long moment, and in his eyes, Susan can see nothing but love. He breathes on her, and she can feel his spirit pour into her, revitalizing her. Peace – a peace that is more than happiness and contentment, but rests on knowing the great mercy and love of the Lion – overflows into her heart. The agony is gone, and she is healed.
She laughs and throws herself at him, burying her face in his golden mane. The crowd shouts its praises, cheering and singing. But Susan can only hear Aslan's heartbeat, gentle and melodic; he purrs and his breath tickles her ear, and so she laughs even more.
Edmund comes to her side and the smile that lights up his face is so beautiful that she seizes him in a great hug, which he eagerly returns. Susan cries freely into his chest, clings to the brother who knows what it feels like to be saved by the Lion. They sink the floor, cushioned by the velvet mat beneath them, as Aslan roars again.
Through her joy, Peter's kiss still lingers.
He kisses her to heal her.