WARNING: ::musing:: Wonder if I should be worried that all of this is coming out of my head? In any case ::sheepish smile:: you know the drill—this is a rather messy (emotion-wise) chapter, so if you are easily reduced to tears, you might want to have a tissue box within easy reach. Lots of angst, lots of fluff (I'm good at that, aren't I?), and lots of brother-bonding.
Disclaimer: I own nothing in this marvelous universe; it all belongs to C. S. Lewis and Walden Media.
Author's Note: ::blinks:: Well, this chapter went in a totally different direction than I had been planning. But I hope it does this story justice and ties up any loose ends I've left wandering. Please enjoy!
Reviewers: All 62 of you, thank you! And thank you for sticking with me (and this story) to the very end! ::grins wickedly:: Now I get to go off and write chapters for all my other stories ::waves cheerily:: hope to see you there!
Summary: The day before Edmund's eighteenth birthday in England, Peter finds himself feeling incredibly homesick…(Brotherfic, mainly, but Siblingfic, too) (Book and Moviebased) (NO Slash)
Counting the Days
By Sentimental Star
Chapter Three: Remedying the Sorrow
When a puzzled, but genial Edmund returns to Peter's dorm at Oxford that night with his overnight bag (fortuitously packed with at least another additional day of clothes), Peter greets him at the door and completely startles his younger brother by pulling him inside and straight into his arms.
The bag drops as Edmund (rather automatically) wraps his arms around his brother's shoulders. Moisture—which has little to do with the rather muggy night—collects in the corners of the eighteen-year-old's eyes as Peter buries his head in the crook of his neck. After several unsuccessful attempts at clearing his throat, Edmund finally manages to murmur—a little thickly—into the golden hair, "Pete?"
Peter shakes his head against Edmund's neck. Gradually, his younger brother becomes aware of the string of 'thank-yous' Peter is murmuring into his shoulder.
Edmund snorts warmly, if wetly. "I told you I'd fix it."
Peter nods jerkily, apparently still disinclined to really speak.
Edmund sighs fondly, smirking tiredly as the (rather early) day's events catch up with him. "Are we planning on staying out in the hall for the rest of the night?" he asks softly.
Peter (rather frantically) shakes his head again, but cannot seem to convince his body to move.
Edmund chuckles quietly, gently tilting his brother's head up. Peter's eyes are suspiciously over-bright and Edmund grins into them, if a trifle shakily. "And I thought only I got this bad," he whispers, lightly sweeping his thumbs across his brother's cheeks.
His answer is a tremulous smile on Peter's part and his older brother's forehead brushing against his own.
Edmund's eyes fall shut as he exhales a nearly silent breath, smiling as he opens his eyes and gazes up into his brother's above him. "Come on, Pete," he murmurs, "let's get you back inside."
Peter laughs wetly. "'S you who are visiting, Ed, not me."
"Yes," Edmund snorts thickly as Peter pulls away, "and I've no idea what possessed me. I'm willingly allowing you to mollycoddle me."
"Not that you mind," he teases, hefting his little brother's bag over his shoulder. He leads the way inside, leaving Edmund to shut the door behind them.
"'Course not," Edmund smirks, sitting cross-legged on Peter's bed with his hands resting lightly on his knees.
When Peter says nothing, dropping his bag off at the desk, and merely watches him, Edmund cocks his head curiously. "What?" he finally laughs, as Peter only stares back and it becomes apparent that no response is forthcoming.
"You're growing," his brother finally remarks softly, reaching out to briefly touch Edmund's hair.
Edmund rolls his eyes tolerantly, patiently undergoing the twenty-two-year-old's inspection. "Brilliant deduction there, Pete."
He grins as Peter flushes. "No! I mean, of course you are, but…" He sighs, sliding his fingers through the younger man's hair, "You know what I mean."
Edmund smirks affectionately. "Then by all means go ahead and look, High King," he murmurs, wearing a soft, mischievous grin and taking the time to carry out his own assessment of his brother's health and well-being.
Peter's pronouncement arrives after several minutes of intently studying his face: "You're too skinny."
Edmund snorts, gently untangling his brother's fingers from his hair. "And you're exhausted."
Amused, Peter lightly tugs on one of Edmund's dark curls before letting go. "So are you, apparently, if your current mood is anything to go by," he sighs, at last flopping down on the bed next to him. "What time did you and Lu get up?"
"Early enough," Edmund smirks.
Peter rolls his eyes. "Edmund."
"Fine," a grin twitches at the corner of Edmund's lips. "We caught the five o'clock train out of Hendon Station."
"Five o'clock?! In the morning?" Peter shoots up into sitting position and stares at his little brother incredulously. "How in all of Narnia did you get Mum to agree to that?"
Edmund glances at him sidelong. "I may have convinced her that you were in dire need of mine and Lu's company."
Peter slowly closes his mouth. Oh.
Edmund smirks faintly. "It was relatively easy after that."
Peter glances away, rapidly blinking his eyes. After a moment, feeling Edmund's hand touch his arm, he swallows and murmurs, "It's your birthday, Ed. Surely you'd want--"
Edmund gently cuts him off, "What I wanted, Peter, was to see you." His little brother's hand tenderly grasps his chin and urges it back towards him. The smile has become slightly more pronounced. "This is as much a present for me as it is for you, you know," he reminds him with a warm smirk, "after all, I've always been terribly selfish." He sighs then, and releases a breath, brushing back Peter's hair, "At least when it comes to you."
Peter's snort is thick, "I've given up trying to convince you otherwise. Have you been let off, then? What of Mum's cake?"
Edmund lightly slaps his shoulder. "Thought I told you I'd kill you if you mentioned anything involving cake?" Nonetheless, there is a distinct reddish tinge to his younger brother's cheeks, "I think she actually brought it with her," muttered sheepishly.
"And Eustace and Jill?"
That muffled question greets Edmund when he emerges from the bathroom roughly half an hour later, toweling his hair dry. Peter is turned away from him, struggling out of his day clothes and pulling on his pajama top, and he sighs quietly, catching sight of his brother's back. No matter how many years they have been in or out of Narnia, he will never feel completely comfortable with the scars that crisscross Peter's skin, regardless of the fact that his own body is exactly the same.
Peter turns curiously when he hears the sigh, finally managing to shrug into his shirt. Noticing the querying expression, Edmund blushes furiously, and pulls the towel down to conceal his face.
His brother laughs softly. Edmund flushes even more and tugs the towel more securely around him, turning away.
"Eustace complained at first," he finally murmurs, heading over to the cot Peter has set up for him, "but when he realized that he wouldn't be asked to get up at five o'clock in the morning, he shut up." A reluctant smile creeps onto his lips, "Once Jill beat that fact into his head, of course. Then he was entirely cooperative."
Peter snorts fondly and shakes his head, just imagining how that conversation took place. With a grin, he sneaks up behind his brother, opening his mouth to remark on their cousin's poorly concealed attraction to Jill…and yanks.
The towel comes off easily into his hands as a startled Edmund whirls around, trying to catch it. But when Peter catches sight of his brother's face, the smirk dies on his lips. "Ed?" he asks tightly, immediately noticing that the younger man's eyes are swimming with tears.
Too tired to be anything other than faintly embarrassed, Edmund averts his gaze to the floor, gripping firmly to the cloth of his towel as his vision begins to blur.
He feels Peter lightly tug the towel back up around his head. "Eddy?" his brother's voice prompts softly. A piece of the warm cloth comes up to gently catch the tear that escapes down his cheek.
Edmund is not able to handle an overly worried Peter right now. He shakes his head and tries pull away. "It's nothing, Peter," he murmurs, determinedly keeping his eyes focused on the carpet. "R-really. I'm just tired."
A full second of silence; then, Peter growls, "Bollocks."
His brother's response startles Edmund enough that he jerks his head up.
Peter frowns at him. "That's rot, Eddy. Get over here," and before Edmund can even protest, he finds himself dragged over Peter's bed and gently pushed down onto the mattress.
Exhaustion prevents him from putting up much of a fight. "I'm sorry," he whispers, voice small, dropping his head into his hands as his tears begin leaking freely. "I'm sorry. It's really nothing."
There is a rustle of cloth and a creak of floorboard as Peter kneels down next to him. A large hand curls up carefully around his and gently pulls it away. "Your face says different," his brother observes quietly, ducking his head to peer up at him tenderly. When yet another tear slips down his cheek, Peter catches it with his thumb, "What's wrong?" he entreats softly.
Edmund takes in a shaky breath. "Peter, remember the soldier?"
"I'm not likely to forget him. . .Ed?"
"Good. Now imagine him with my face."
It is easier than Peter thinks it should be. It is not hard to imagine that man with his brother's face and his brother's eyes. And it hurts, far more than Peter expects it to.
"Don't ask me to imagine that," he whispers, squeezing his eyes shut, and voice heartbreakingly soft, "please don't ask me to imagine that. You know I'd die if that were you."
Edmund's voice quavers as he looks away and replies, "Then that is how I felt this afternoon."
Peter had expected as much, but that does not stop the ache he feels when he imagines what Edmund must have been imagining all day long. His breathing hitches, "And th-the Soldiers' Home?"
It is Edmund's turn to squeeze his eyes shut. "The rumors are not so very far off the mark, Peter. It is dreary in there. Drafty. And cold. It smells like medicine. They use so many sanitizers that it burns your eyes just walking in there. There's no color…" Edmund shakes his head, opening his eyes as tears continue to trickle down his cheeks and staring out unseeingly across his brother's room, "Lucy was absolutely furious, you know, when she saw how they were treating them. The soldiers, I mean." He sniffs, and rubs at the tears wetting his cheeks, turning around to face Peter and pressing his lips together in a thin line, "There is no warmth in there, Peter. No love. No one cares about the soldiers who are living there. And everywhere I looked," his voice cracks, "every soldier that I saw…" He runs down there, but Peter knows him well enough to complete the thought.
"You were seeing me everywhere, weren't you?" he murmurs thickly, tugging Edmund against his chest.
His brother clutches the towel Peter has kept wrapped around him in a white-knuckled grip and nods.
"Oh, Edmund," murmured painfully into his ear. "Knowing you, you've been keeping this to yourself since my leaving for University, haven't you?"
"And you didn't tell me?"
A shake of Edmund's head and a wet laugh against his shoulder, "You wouldn't have ever left if I did."
Peter grumbles a little, but really can't object. "I still wish you would have told me."
Edmund lifts his head up to give him a watery smirk. "I just did."
Peter scowls, fighting the reluctant smile edging onto his lips. "Ass," he finally mutters warmly.
Edmund rolls his eyes as a few more tears spill down his cheeks. "Love you, too," he retorts softly.
Peter sighs, finally giving voice to the smile insistently pulling at his lips, "Of course you do. You're only crying all over me."
Edmund pulls back only long enough to half-heartedly swat at his shoulder, before burying himself once again in Peter's arms. His grumble is muffled, "Git."
It is Peter's turn to roll his eyes. "Naturally," he murmurs, cradling the towel-covered head against the crook of his neck. A few seconds of silence, then, "I don't suppose you're wanting to go back to your own bed, are you?"
Peter's only answer is a wet snort and the tightening of his little brother's hands in his pajama shirt. "As if you'd even let me," Edmund mutters.
They are woken quite early the next morning by voices out in the dorm's hallway. "Susan, wait up!" Lucy's voice penetrates Edmund's ears and he groans, turning against the warm mass at his side.
Peter, still half-asleep, chuckles thickly, squeezing his shoulders. "I think that's our wake-up call, Eddy," he murmurs scratchily, voice clogged with sleep.
Edmund pokes his head up and blinks owlishly at his brother as Susan's voice joins Lucy's out in the corridor, "Hurry up, Lu. You got to see him all day yesterday, but I haven't yet, you know."
Lucy's giggles reach them as Edmund sits up properly, trying to shake off the last vestiges of sleep. "You just saw him yesterday at supper, Susan. And what makes you think they'll be up, anyway? You know Ed spent the night last night."
Edmund hisses softly as he unclenches one of his hands from Peter's nightclothes, blinking blearily at his Lion's head ring as it tumbles into his lap. It takes two passes before he is able to process the ring's imprint in his palm and he glances up at his brother, muttering, "Was I holding onto you the entire night?"
Peter smirks gently, albeit sleepily, at him and opens his mouth to reply…when a groan interrupts their conversation. It does not belong to either of them or either of the girls. In fact, Edmund is nearly positive it belongs to, "Eustace!" Jill's voice scolds in exasperation. "Now what?"
Their cousin groans again, "If Pete and Ed aren't even awake, yet, tell me again why we are here at eight o'clock in the morning?"
Edmund snorts softly, now rather more alert, "Thought he didn't want to get up at five o'clock in the morning," muttered in amusement to Peter, who grins blearily at him, very relieved. Edmund is thankfully back to his usual self—which is a relief after yesterday.
It seems Edmund's thoughts are running along the same path: as his brother leans down with a smile, he gently brushes back Peter's hair and softly kisses his forehead, "Thank you for last night," he finally whispers, tuning out their sisters and cousin in the hall for the moment. "I didn't mean tell you all that I did. But I haven't seen you in three months, and well…" The eighteen-year-old shrugs shyly, a fair bit of color on his cheeks.
Peter sits up with a smile, eyes warm with affection, and holds his hand up, "Stop right there, Ed," he chastises quietly, "who else would you have gone to? You know I don't mind. I'm glad that you did." With a final touch to Edmund's hair (whose cheeks are rather rosy), Peter slips to his feet.
"By the way," he murmurs, pausing with his hand on the bathroom's doorknob after stretching, "did you see the inscription?"
Edmund blinks. "Inscription? Pete?"
Peter turns to him with soft grin, "On the ring," before opening the bathroom door and stepping inside, shutting it behind him with a quiet click.
Edmund frowns at the door, puzzled, before looking down and studying the delicately inscribed letters circling the ring's band that he had previously mistaken for mere decorative script: "One soul, two bodies," read softly. His breathing hitches and he merely sits there for several long seconds until, finally, "Peter! Peter! Get your arse back out here!"
Peter, who has been listening through the bathroom door, laughs softly and pushes off it to start getting ready for the day.
What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.—Aristotle