Edmund shifted in his hammock, trying to get comfortable as he lay wide-awake watching the two sleeping boys he shared the tiny cabin with.
Eustace had the bunk, of course. Drinian had been distraught at the mere notion of leaving his King, to say nothing of one of the great Kings of old, to sleep in hammocks; Caspian, however, proved obstinate. Eustace, who did not realise he was being granted a luxury, had complained endlessly about the hardness of the bed and his extreme discomfort in it, and almost a fortnight at sea had not sufficed to soften his view on the matter. It was not the heavily snoring Eustace, however, on whom Edmund's attention rested.
In the dim light from the adjacent cabin, Edmund could easily make out the figure of King Caspian; could see the gentle rise and fall of his chest along with his breathing. With no risk of notice and subsequent embarrassment, his eyes were free to roam over the sleeping form, taking in the fine features of Caspian's face; his broad, powerful shoulders; his noble beauty.
Since boarding the Dawn Treader, Edmund had passed many nights watching the King as he slumbered. To be fair, there was little else he could do to pass the time. Just breathing the Narnian air made him feel strong and well rested, and he found his need for sleep diminishing. Watching Eustace sleep was about as diverting as ogling a lump of granite, but Caspian was a different story. Everything about him, from his clear, musical voice to his stubbornly tousled hair, held Edmund's attention in a way he had never imagined another man could. Watching him at his least guarded, Edmund felt that he was somehow getting closer to the young King, establishing an understanding and an intimacy that he was bitterly aware was completely one-sided. In his unconscious state, Caspian betrayed his thoughts and feelings more clearly than he would ever allow in waking hours. While he slept he was an ordinary teenage boy, with all the vulnerabilities of his age. It was the only time of the day during which he threw off the cloak of regal confidence that at all other times was wrapped close around him.
Some nights he would appear restless, agitated; his lips would part as his breathing sped up ever so slightly, his blankets bulging between his legs, and Edmund, with a stab of mingled shame and excitement, would feel his own hormones stir violently. Caspian would invariably wake up after a few minutes, seemingly on purpose, and Edmund would feign sleep as he struck himself irritably in the face and sighed in frustration – a frustration, Edmund knew, that he was deeply, irrationally ashamed of. At least when Edmund had gone through puberty that first time, he had had his older brother to assure him that it was all completely normal. Caspian, nearly full-grown now in body, had no male role model. A peasant boy would have relieved his hormonal tensions by playing with himself, or else dallying with a village girl. Caspian, of course, would think such behaviour well below his standards as a King of Narnia. On these nights, Edmund would lie awake long after Caspian had gone back to sleep, feeling sympathy and admiration for the other boy's self-control, and struggling with his own inappropriate desire.
On other nights, Caspian would toss and turn in the hammock with a frown upon his sleeping face. During these times, Edmund came to understand from the broken fragments of speech accompanying such dreams, the King saw visions of war and bloodshed – his people dying, his kingdom collapsing, and he helpless to stop any of it. It would take him longer to wake during these dreams, and when he did he would get up immediately and slip out of the cabin to pace the deck for an hour or so before returning, cold but much calmer, to his bed. Edmund would lie awake waiting for him to come back, longing to follow the King and comfort him but painfully aware of how unwelcome his advances would be. Comfort, in the way Edmund wished most to give it, would appal his friend. Even if he approached him as a brother, keeping his own feelings out of the equation, he would be rebuffed. Caspian would merely put on that mask of staunch serenity, as he always did, and brood on his anxiety internally.
Edmund knew that anxiety well. He vividly remembered his own restless nights during his reign, when he would lie awake thinking of all the ways he could go wrong until he was frantic with worry and self-doubt. Here, too, his siblings had been a huge comfort to him. To doubt himself was to doubt all four of them, and as long as Peter supported his judgement then he had no fears of going horribly wrong. He didn't think he could have borne it if he had had to rule all on his own. But then, he had been newer to the ways and laws of Narnia back then. Caspian had been raised for his station since birth.
It was hard to believe how much the King had changed since their last meeting. When they had last parted, Caspian had been little more than a child, thin and slight and very meek and unassuming. Now, coming back to Narnia only a year later by his world's timeline, he found a tall, muscular, devastatingly attractive young monarch with a hasty temper and commanding presence. Edmund knew it was wrong, by the laws of his own world as well as this, but he couldn't help watching the other boy from afar and wishing desperately that he could be closer.
Tonight, Caspian slept soundly. His face, shadowy as it was, looked heart wrenchingly innocent and peaceful, and for just a moment Edmund imagined he could see something of the little boy he and his family had helped regain his throne a year, or three years, ago.
"You were a lot easier to understand back then," he said aloud to the silent room.
"What's that, Edmund? Is everything ok?" With a jolt, Edmund realised that he had woken Caspian with his idle comment. The King was sitting up in his hammock, rubbing his eyes and yawning.
"Everything's fine, Caspian. Go back to sleep," he urged soothingly.
Caspian shook his head wearily. "No good at all; it must be nearly dawn. I shan't sleep even if I try. Would you care to take a walk on the deck with me?" He slid easily to the floor, bending to pull on his sea-boots.
Edmund smiled. Come to think of it, he rather did fancy a walk. It was better than lying awake with only Eustace's grunting snores for comfort. He knew that Caspian, in an indirect way, was asking for support and a listening ear. He would want to talk about his plans for the voyage, and discuss the state of his Kingdom, and have his companion smile approvingly and tell him he was doing an impressive job governing the country. In spite of his apparent confidence, Caspian suffered his share of moments where he felt hopelessly inadequate for his station, where he was frightened of the future and began to doubt even Aslan himself. Edmund understood these feelings well, because how many times had he sought such comfort from his older brother in that same way?
"That sounds lovely," he said, tossing off his own blanket. Caspian offered him a friendly hand out of the clumsy hammock, and he smiled gratefully. He would take what he could get.