Disclaimer: I do not own anything connected to the Chronicles of Narnia, so please don't get confused and sue me by mistake. All in good fun, nothing for profit.
A/N: Forgive the angstiness of the prologue, but I needed to set the scene. This is my first full Narnia fic, so please be kind and review! I really want to know what you think! That and reviews make me ecstatically, pathetically happy. Imagine a kitty suddenly finding a ribbon twitching just above her nose. Oh, and while I occasionally include minor details from the books, I'm really more following movieverse, just in case that warns anyone off.
Dance Round the Memory Tree
It was the time for goodbyes, but the words were lodged somewhere beneath her sternum. She'd had all morning to think on it, ever since Aslan had called her and Peter aside from the others, but if there was anything appropriate to be said, it was still eluding her. Glenstorm clasped the High King's wrist, a farewell to a comrade-in-arms. Susan watched Edmund and Lucy as they conducted themselves with dignity and grace, sure that they would be returning in some misty future.
In fact, she looked at anything except the one thing she wanted most of all to see. A low rumble brought her attention to the great golden lion. His whiskers twitched, His eyes regarding her with weighty compassion. With that terrible love, she finally turned to him.
He was watching only her, the great sword Rhindon held loosely in his hands like he wasn't quite sure what to do with it. Taking a deep breath, she walked towards him, wishing he didn't look quite so handsome in his finery. Words were flying away again into his dark eyes so she started picking out the threads of embroidery in his sky blue tunic.
"I'm glad we came back."
"I only wish we had more time together," he said softly.
She threw a glance to Peter, but couldn't read his expression. Forcing a smile, she turned back to the Telmarine King. "It would never have worked out anyway."
He shook his head, his honest confusion tearing at her heart. "I am thirteen hundred years older." Steeling herself, Susan took a few steps towards the tree.
The great golden eyes watched her unblinkingly.
Before she could think herself out of it, she was back in front of Caspian, her hand on his lightly stubbled jaw and her lips pressed against his. It was all too brief, her courage deserting her, but then his arms were around her. His breath caressed the curve of her neck, his hand trembling at the small of her back.
Lucy's voice pulled her from her reverie, and from Edmund's answering tone, she was glad she missed the actual words. But it was Peter's face that brought her stepping towards the door of air. Peter, the High King, who understood what it meant to not come back.
But oh, it was hard not to glance back over her shoulder. It took more strength that she thought she possessed to walk through the gap in the tree. The stinging cuts on her cheek vanished, her finery replaced by her dull school uniform, but in the tube station in the middle of dreary, mundane London, Susan Pevensie could swear the taste of him lingered.
Susan awoke with a start, one hand automatically pressed to her mouth to stifle any cries. Blinking in the darkness, she slowly took in her surroundings, letting each piece come together to remind her where she was.
There, in the larger bed across the tiny cabin, was her father's whuffling snore, a sound that always reminded her of Mister Beaver after a night at the pub with Badger. Beside that was her mother's garbled murmur, muffled by a pillow and her husband's arm. And there, underneath it all, the foreign hum of machinery, so familiar all her life and now- again- so strange. She was on the ship, on her way back from America.
And she was still dreaming of him.
With a silent sigh, she crept carefully out of bed and out of the cabin without waking her parents. Once in the corridor, she shrugged into her dressing gown. The deck rolled slightly beneath her bare feet, a sedate sway that she doubted most of the passengers could even feel. But she remembered voyages that lasted for months, on great wooden vessels that kissed the salt spray. She remembered sails billowing out with a snap from a sudden wind, and the shuddering groans as oarsmen maneuvered them back into a current. Her feet remembered, too.
In Narnia, there had been any number of cures for insomnia, but in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, on this unfamiliar metal ship? Her options were limited to chamomile and peppermint.
She chose the chamomile, striking a match to light the burner. The lounge was empty at this time of night- morning, she corrected herself, hearing the high bell strike. Everyone else was sleeping, but for the token night watch. She waited patiently for the tea to be ready, willing her scrambling mind to stillness.
It was an old exercise, albeit one that rarely worked. But it gave her something to do, something to steer her thoughts away from-…
There, all done. She poured it into a mug and blew out the flame, cutting off the propane that fueled it. The lounge fell back into darkness. Mug in hand, she sank down into one of the chaises, pulling her robe more tightly about her.
It had been a long summer, full of new sights and people, names and faces flying away to be replaced at each new stop. She missed her brothers and sister terribly; as much as they argued, they understood each other in a way no one else could. They already knew each other, and themselves, as the adults they would be. But only one of them could go to America, and Helen Pevensie had decreed that Susan would benefit most from it. Why, Susan still wasn't sure, except that Helen always introduced her as 'the pretty one'. Did she fancy a Yank as a son-in-law?
What would she think of a Telmarine?
The quick mouthful of tea was too hot; she let it scald her tongue before swallowing, feeling the thin liquid sear a trail down her throat. Bad thoughts lay in that direction.
The compass was betraying her, though, because bad thought lay in every direction. Because every thought led back to him. Sitting in the darkness with her mug of tea, Susan Pevensie ignored the tears trembling their way down her cheeks, sternly ordering herself not to cry.
A royal command.
And laughter mixed with the forbidden tears.
"That's just it; we won't be coming back."
He could only stare at her, his hands curled loosely about the crimson leather scabbard of the High King's sword. He was grateful to Lucy for asking the question he couldn't, but the answer wasn't making much sense.
Susan wasn't looking at him now, but h could see the same sorrow she's shown while walking with Aslan just an hour earlier. The others were making their farewells, but he had eyes only for her. He tried to say her name, but it came out only as breath.
Finally, she walked towards him, her face more pale than usual amidst her dark curls. "I'm glad we came back," she said, essaying a smile.
"I only wish we had more time together."
"We would never have worked anyway."
He gripped the scabbard more tightly, shaking his head. "Why not?" he asked, willing his voice not to crack.
Her smile strengthened slightly. "I am thirteen hundred years older."
Caspian studied her face, trying to memorize every freckle scattered across her nose and cheeks. There were words he should be saying but he couldn't think of any of them. When she turned away, he tried to force his mouth to open, for anything to come out.
But then she turned back and she was kissing him, softly and uncertainly. Her lips were soft against his, yielding. Sweet. The kiss was brief but he couldn't let her go. Still gripping the sword, he slid his arms around her and held her close. He buried his face in the curve of her neck, breathing in the scent that was uniquely her.
"Stay," he whispered, unsure if he was actually saying it out loud. "Please."
She pulled away without comment; perhaps he hadn't said it out loud after all.
His heart thudded painfully in his chest as he watched her walk away. Away from Narnia, and away from him. He shifted his grip so the carved lion of the pommel bit into his palm. He couldn't follow. His place was here, with the people he had waged a war to win, the people he had sworn to lead and protect. As much as he wanted to walk after her, he could not.
Aslan padded to his side, the great lion's whiskers twitching against his hand. He didn't say anything, but Caspian tried to take heart in His presence.
When she disappeared, he closed his eyes, her image lingering in that darkness.
Caspian opened his eyes slowly, staring at the ceiling over his bunk. A shielded candle by the door provided a sputtering, swaying light, not enough to truly illuminate, but it provided some relief.
His hand pressed against his chest, but nearly four years had lessened the panic he used to feel upon waking from those kinds of dreams. Lying against the mess of blankets, he held on to that final image. He still wished he'd given Lucy a message to pass on to her sister when the Dawn Treader left her, Edmund, and Eustace at the End of the World, but what would he have said? Most would have been too personal, and he couldn't be sure she had actually felt the same. Or that it lasted if she had.
No, he knew it was right not to send word, but that didn't keep him from wishing.
Rolling from the bunk, Caspian paced about the main cabin, absently finger combing his hair back from his face. His feet took him to the small table he used as a desk and he paused, sifting through some of the stacked parchments. Most of them were new maps, sketched by Queen Lucy as they encountered new islands. It was a little difficult to read her handwriting at times; it seemed to be caught between two very different styles. King Edmund had laughed when he asked about it, saying that England taught Penmanship very differently from Old Narnia. His scarred, calloused fingers traced over the mapped currents, recalling each island.
Deathwater Island was still dim, an experience he thought it best not to remember in detail. But that unfathomable darkness…that he recalled clearly. An island where dreams come true, nightmares as well as fancies, except that nightmares weren't the only things that could cause pain. He'd heard some of the men discuss their terrors afterwards, but he had kept silent. It was too tempting to dwell on the sweetness of what might have been, what couldn't be.
Because he had seen her in the black waters around that island, she whose voice and kiss were siren cries in his sleeping mind.
His fingers found their way underneath the piles to a long, red fletched arrow. If Queen Lucy had noticed it while staying in his cabin, she had been kind enough not to mention it. He drew it out and played idly with the shaft, watching the candlelight gleam off the brass nock. It was a dangerous souvenir, but even his self-discipline hadn't extended that far yet.
Throwing the arrow back onto the table with a disgusted sound, Caspian made his way back to the wide bunk, rummaging through the small cabinet above it. It held the fireflower cordial, once against left behind at Queen Lucy's departure, but it also held somewhat else, and it was this he sought. Sprawling across the bed, his back against the wallboards, he unscrewed the cap of an engraved silver flask.
It was a gift from Trumpkin, just before the voyage commenced. He'd only had a few drops of it since, as he privately considered the liquor to be halfway lethal; the fauns and satyrs were especially fond of it, but it was considered a test of strength among the Red Dwarves.
But now…now, with the ship leaving the End of the World and heading back towards Ramandu's Island, now with the night all around him and a four year old kiss lingering on his lips…now was a time to test the strength of the Red Dwarves.
The spirits seared his throat and stomach, but didn't erase the image from the backs of his eyes.