Disclaimer: I do not own Chronicles of Narnia.
Summary: Because the children who arrive home on that train are not the same ones she put on it. And because she can never, ever know why.
When you put them on that train, they were young and untried and glorious, in that respect, because they were children. And children do not know pain or death or war, though you are in the midst of one. Children are good because they have not yet seen the world for what it is and what it can be, not because they have chosen it.
When you put them on the train, it is with warm mittens and little chapped lips against your cheeks, a boy shaking your hand and promising to protect his siblings. You are proud of him, and you hope that he doesn't have to, but, standing there, you think you see the man he will someday be. In a few years – five or six or seven, or maybe only four, if this war drags on.
It is with a girl playing mother already, gathering her younger sister to herself, because the child wants to understand why they are leaving when their mother is not.
The train departs, full of children – the bright, gay laughter, and the low, choking sobs. The glowing eyes, valiantly holding back tears, and the small hands reaching out for one last touch of a parent's hand, one last hurried kiss before they are shipped off for who knows how long.
And there are tears in your eyes, but you smile and you wave, because you must make this last effort for them, must be brave on last time before your babies leave you and you are left all alone in that empty house. You wonder if they will be safe, if they will eat their greens and say their prayers, and then you wonder if they will miss you.
It seems a long time before they return, a hard time where it is cold and fearful and gray and dim, where you are happy that you sent them away. But in the distance you see The End, when your children will return and the war will be over, and you will be a family again.
But when you see them again, getting off the train, at first you cannot believe it is your own children standing among those others. They are strangers, almost, strangers in your children's skin, who are everything you hoped they would someday be, years too early. The children you pick up at the station are adults, unfailingly polite and happy to see you, with hearts and eyes ten thousand miles and six centuries away.
Your sons and daughters have grown into men and women, whose hands you shake and whose waists you wrap your arms around. There is greatness and wisdom in your sons' eyes, and gentleness and bravery in your daughters'. They are not yours, you think, bewildered and dismayed. They children you put on that train are not the ones who came back on it.
You follow them on their way to gather their luggage – it is them, now, and you, separate – and you watch as Peter breaks apart a tussle between two small children, and asks – asks! – Edmund to watch them as he gathers their baggage. And Edmund smiles at the two boys and says a few words, Lucy looks over their sundry scrapes and bruises, and Susan offers a small handful of sweets and two handkerchiefs.
Peter stands by, the various bags looking smaller in his hands – it is more than the left with, you think, and almost bitterly wonder what the Professor bought their affections with. There is something cold in your eldest son's eyes as he watches you, now, appraising and judging and with something hard and protective in the back of those eyes, and you shiver a bit; but then he smiles and there is nothing but warmth in his gaze now, and you wonder if you had imagined it.
But he has truly grown up, and you wish you had been there to see him do so, there to watch him in all his glory. He and Edmund lug the baggage to the car, and Peter takes the front seat while Edmund helps the girls into the back, and Susan smiles at him, glowing and proud and queenly. It takes your breath away, the way she smiles, and the exaggerated bow he offers in return. It is like they have not only grown up, but together. Edmund opens the driver's door for you, too, and you smile at him, but you know your smile is nothing but matronly.
There is a crystal bowl of Turkish Delight on the counter at home, and when you point it out, Edmund takes a single piece and smiles at you, and eats it, slowly. The girls linger for a moment, chattering about the weather and the news, and you beam at them, and Lucy suddenly exclaims, "By the Lion!" and rushes to the window. There has been an accident, it seems, and Lucy is reaching, oddly enough, for her hip, when Peter places and hand on her shoulder and whispers in her ear.
Her face crumples, and there is heartbreak in her eyes before she masks it with a skill she should not have, and she smiles politely and walks quickly out of the room. Peter and Edmund and Susan find work the very next day, after leaving early in the morning – when you leave for your own job. You find it strange, that they can find work so quickly, because there are adults who cannot find jobs – how can they? But they bring in good money, and they seem to like the work – seem to like working – and Peter brings home a stuffed lion for Lucy with the most realistic eyes you have ever seen, and you can see why in her face.
You walk out of the room, because it seems almost as though you are intruding. And you wonder what happened to them at the Professor's house, that has made your sons kings and your daughters queens and yourself so ordinary.
Thanks to everyone who reviewed! I clarified a few things and fixed all those grammatical and spelling errors – or, at least, I hope I did. If anyone sees anything or is still confused, please feel free to leave me a review or a PM, and I'll try to go back and clarify again – again, I'm sorry for the confusion, and I hope this is better!